Pitt guard Cameron Wright leaps to save the ball and keep it inbounds Sunday in a loss to Virginia at Petersen Events Center.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There was a lot of chatter that Pitt would have to change its style of basketball to fit in the ACC, that the Panthers would have to become a more up-tempo, higher-scoring team to play in the league.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn't buy that theory. Mostly because he said there isn't really a singular style of play in the conference. There are those that like to run, but a number of teams are defensive minded, want to control possessions and play a half-court game.
Dixon largely has been proven correct as Wake Forest, Clemson and, most recently, Virginia slowed down their games against Pitt as much as they could.
The Panthers (18-4, 6-3) are coming off a 48-45 loss to Virginia, because they got lured into a half-court game and then did not execute well down the stretch.
Matchup: No. 25 Pitt (18-4, 6-3ACC) vs. Miami (11-10, 2-6), 7 p.m. today, Bank United Center, Coral Gables, Fla.
TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
Pitt: Leads series with Miami, 17-16. ... Won previous trip to Miami (2004), 84-80, in double overtime. ... Coming off first two-game losing streak this season. ... Is 6-10 in games played at Miami. ... Have won 18 games by an average of 14.7 points per game. ... Has 9-3 record in past 12 road games.
Miami: Last in ACC in scoring (61.6 points per game), but gives up only 59.5 points per game. ... Is one of the worst rebounding teams in the ACC (only +1.3 rebounding margin). ... Top player is G Rion Brown (14 points, 6.2 rebounds per game).
Hidden stat: Pitt leads the ACC in assists per game (16.4).
That game should have taught the Panthers some lessons before visiting Miami tonight.
The Hurricanes (11-10, 6-5) are the lowest-scoring team in the ACC (61.6 points per game) and have played some of the ugliest games in the league this season. And yet, that is exactly how coach Jim Larranaga wants Miami to play after losing a lot of talent to graduation.
In effect, Larranaga is trying to have his team play to its strengths.
Dixon said Miami plays a lot like Virginia by running the clock down, giving opponents as few possessions as possible and seeking offensive efficiency. The difference defensively is that Miami prefers a matchup zone instead of playing man-to-man.
The matchup zone is not something the Panthers have seen much of this season and it is not similar to Syracuse's 2-3. As a result, attacking it successfully will be a challenge for Pitt.
"Theirs is a matchup zone, we haven't seen a lot of that matchup zone this year. We've seen more of it in other years, but not so much this year," Dixon said. "They also play a little bit of the Syracuse zone, a type of 2-3, but we saw it a little more in the Big East. It is something that coach Larranaga hasn't played a lot of [in the past], but is this year because he feels it matches his personnel.
"They match up more with their three perimeter guys, they play more man-to-man on the ball than say a 2-3 zone."
Dixon said the key to Miami's zone is it slows teams down on offense. That meshes with the Hurricanes' philosophy of keeping the possessions low and scoring down.
He said the only way to attack it successfully is to be patient. Dixon thought the Panthers were pretty good at that Sunday in the loss against Virginia but noted they were not good at making shots.
"I think we are good against a zone," Dixon said. "The matchup zone is something that we prepare for, but we are also built to have success against zones because we pass it well and shoot it well. But it is something that we are going to have to be patient with and adjust [to] as they adjust as the game goes on."
Larranaga said he spent the weekend watching the Duke-Syracuse and Pitt-Virginia games and some other ACC games, and he is amazed by the many styles of play.
He said Pitt and Virginia played a low-scoring game because both are good defensively and both make it difficult to run an offense and score.
"[If someone makes it to 50 in this game], I hope it is us," Larranaga said.
"Pittsburgh makes very few mistakes on offense and defense, they are good passers, they are very skilled on the perimeter and they have good big guys who catch.
"But, defensively, they are very stingy, they challenge any ball screen, they just make it very difficult to run your offense."
While scoring the fewest points in the ACC, the Hurricanes have enjoyed some success because they yield the fourth-fewest points in the league (59.5 ppg).
Pitt got some good news when center Talib Zanna, who injured an ankle in the loss Sunday against Virginia, was cleared to play. Dixon said Zanna likely will be ready to face the Hurricanes.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter: @paulzeise.
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