Notre Dame can put 'burn' to work against Pitt

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Pitt is in its first year as a member of the ACC, so much of this season has been about making new acquaintances, learning about new foes and building new rivalries.

But the Panthers won't need much of an introduction to their next ACC opponent, and they certainly will not need help getting motivated because it is a team they have played plenty of times over the years and, recently, a team they have had a hard time beating.

Pitt (21-7, 9-6) will play at Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10 ) today in a matchup of two old Big East Conference rivals that made the jump this year to the ACC.

And while the Fighting Irish are struggling right now, they have been a very difficult matchup for the Panthers the past few years, particularly at Joyce Center where the Irish are tough to beat regardless of who they play.

Notre Dame, which leads the overall series, 31-27, has won its past five games against Pitt and has beaten the Panthers three times in a row at home.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the Panthers' struggles at Joyce Center have nothing to do with the building itself and everything to do with the Irish being of the stronger teams in the Big East over the years.

Scouting report
Matchup: Pitt (21-7, 9-6 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10), 2 p.m. today, Purcell Pavilion at Joyce Center, Notre Dame, Ind.

TV, Radio: ESPN2; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Coming off 66-59 win Wednesday at Boston College. ... Has three games left -- today, Monday against North Carolina State and next Saturday at Clemson. ... Has several players ailing -- Mike Young (back), Talib Zanna (ankle), Chris Jones (thumb) and James Robinson (quad). All are expected to play. ... Shot 50 percent against Boston College, their best shooting performance in eight games.

Notre Dame: Has won five in a row against Pitt. ... Has won three in a row against Pitt at Joyce Center. ... Leads series, 31-27. ... Leading scorer was Jerian Grant until he was lost in December for academic issues. ... G Eric Atkins (13.6 ppg) is one of top guards in ACC.

Hidden stat: A win today would give Pitt 20 overall wins and 10 league wins for the 12th time in 13 years.

He said the Irish always have good guards, and this year is no exception, and the Panthers need to make sure they just play their best game and continue to build on their win Wednesday at Boston College.

"[Notre Dame] has been good, we had some good wins out there but the last couple of years we have lost up there," Dixon said. "They have been good, we have lost some close games down there and they have always had some good guard play.

"But what matters now is looking forward and watching some film and we just have to get ready; we have to move on and be ready to play."

Pitt shot 50 percent from the floor against the Eagles, the first time they achieved that mark in seven games.

Dixon said the key in that game was the Panthers' patience on offense and that they took good shots, leading to the higher shooting percentage.

He said he has preached patience on offense because the Panthers have gotten out of rhythm offensively due to rushed shots and trying too hard to force things instead of letting the flow of the game dictate where their shots came from.

But against Notre Dame, the Panthers might have to practice another form of patience -- patience on defense, as the Irish have utilized a strategy they call the "burn" offense in the past against the Panthers. That means long possessions, running sets and grinding the game to a snail's pace.

Dixon said the Irish could use that burn strategy again and if they do, the Panthers can't get frustrated by it and instead need to play it possession by possession with great team defense.

"When I use the word patience, I mean defensive patience, as well," Dixon said. "Offensively, we are looking to attack and get transition baskets, but at the same time if they are back and they are playing solid defense, and against good teams that is what is going to happen, you have to have the ability to wear people down and grind them out and that is what we need to get back to.

"It seems like they are running motion and similar stuff and we have to keep [Eric] Atkins in front of us. I think our defense has improved down this stretch of games and if you look at the numbers, it would bear that out."

Pitt senior guard/forward Lamar Patterson echoed his coach's sentiments and said that the Notre Dame teams that have beaten Pitt in recent years have done so because they were good and because they played better than the Panthers.

He also said he is well-versed on the burn offense, but he believes the Panthers have learned their lessons the past couple of times they have played the Irish and are ready to practice that patience Dixon wants them to have.

"They always have a good team. They have a great coach and that is a win we have to go get," Patterson said. "We are a patient team, also, but we have been losing to them the past couple of years. But we can't afford to slip up; we have to go up there and find a way to get a 'W.'

"We just want to close out the regular season strong."

The Irish were picked to finish fifth in the ACC in the preseason media poll, one spot ahead of the Panthers, but they lost their best player and leading scorer Jerian Grant in December to academic troubles and haven't been the same since.

With Grant, who averaged 19 points per game, they were 8-4. But since he left the team, they are 7-10, though they did upset Duke, 79-77, two games after he left.

But Grant and Atkins (13.6 ppg, 4.6 assists per game) gave the Irish one of the best backcourt combinations in Division I, and with center Garrick Sherman (13.8 ppg, 7.4 rebounds per game), they had a very strong inside/outside combination.

The Irish have won three of their past five games, but have a tough stretch to end the season as they play Pitt today and finish Monday at North Carolina.

Paul Zeise:, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.

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