Pitt's rebuilt frontcourt is paying off this season
January 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt's Ryan Luther grabs a rebound against Maryland Eastern Shore's Thomas Rivera in the first half Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Coach Jamie Dixon rebuilt Pitt’s frontcourt in the offseason in large part because the Panthers were too small a season ago and their rebounding and defense suffered as a result.
Pitt’s rebounding margin of plus-1.9 was the lowest of any of Dixon’s teams and the lowest since the 2000-01 season.
Rebounding is the cornerstone of Dixon’s program and that was his motivation for bringing in two graduate transfers at center and shifting Sheldon Jeter and Ryan Luther to the post exclusively. With veteran Michael Young, the Panthers have a five-man rotation for two post spots, and through 13 games it appears to be the right move as rebounding numbers have improved.
“Last year, people talked about how we were smaller than everyone and how we got outrebounded,” Jeter said. “We weren’t as physical as we needed to be, so in the offseason we really grinded it in the weight room and got bigger and strong and it shows.
“We might not have the height of some of the other teams but we can still battle with any big man down there.”
Pitt (12-1, 1-0 ACC) is outrebounding opponents by an average of 42.7–30.6. And the Panthers are averaging 13 offensive rebounds, leading to more than 15 second-chance points per game. They are second in the ACC in rebounding offense (42.7 per game) and third in rebounding defense (30.6 per game) and their rebounding margin is second behind only Louisville (plus-13.9).
Dixon said he is not surprised by the increase in rebounding numbers because of the emphasis on it in the offseason and every day in practice.
“Last year, we had a lot of guys out and we didn’t have a lot of big guys healthy, so this year is completely different,” Dixon said. “So we are better and we have improved as the season has gone on, as well. I was not excited about where we were at earlier in the year, but the last four or five games we have taken it up a notch and that’s been good to see.
“We have faced more zone as well, so I think that has helped with our offensive rebounding but it has been a big emphasis for us, blocking out, grabbing the long rebounds, and we really have gone to an approach of ‘my man cannot get the ball’ and that has helped, too.”
Guards Sterling Smith and Chris Jones also rebound well, and the switch of Jones to guard from small foward and Jamel Artis from power forward to small forward has given the Panthers an advantage at those positions in height and athleticism.
Earlier in the season, Dixon was concerned about his team’s rebounding but the Panthers have turned that around with help from their offense.
“When you play better defense, they miss more shots, you have a chance at more rebounds,” he said. “And likewise, when you execute better on offense you are taking better shots and are also going to be, in general, in better position for offensive rebounding.
“So all of those things really go hand in hand.”
Pitt will be tested far more and against bigger and more athletic teams in the coming weeks as they get into the heart of the ACC schedule, starting Wednesday against Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1). The Yellow Jackets are one of the better rebounding teams in the conference (plus-8.9 rebounding margin per game) and have the conference’s leading rebounder in Charles Mitchell, who averages 11.2 per game.
Dixon said that keeping Mitchell off the glass will be a priority. “He is big, he is wide and his rebounding numbers are astronomical. I knew that he was averaging a bunch of rebounds at the start of the year but he is still at 11 per game. It is one thing to average that through five games, but it is another thing to go into conference play and still be averaging that. Obviously, that is what he does.”
The Panthers were ranked in The Associated Press poll for the first time since February 2014, checking in at No. 24, and also moved up to No. 21 in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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