Pitt takes different tack when it comes to setting the pace
February 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt's Jamel Artis dunks against Virginia Tech in the second half Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Many of Pitt’s games under coach Jamie Dixon have hinged on the pace of play, and that could be the case again Saturday when the Panthers play host to No. 9 Virginia at Petersen Events Center.
But there is major difference: This season, unlike most others, the Panthers (17-4, 7-3 ACC) will try to speed things up instead of slowing them down. The Panthers seem to play better at a faster pace. They push the ball, and it is the opponent who attempts to slow the game and play as deliberate as possible.
Virginia (18-4, 7-3) is one extremely efficient example. The Cavaliers like to play a half-court game and force opponents to play at their slow pace. The Panthers understand this and know that pace will be every bit as important to the outcome as the team making more shots or rebounding the best.
“It will all start for us on the defensive end because they do like to play a slow-it-down kind of style,” said Sheldon Jeter, who will make his second start of the season Saturday. “So, because they are such a good defensive team, if we are trading baskets with them, we will have to walk it up as opposed to getting the rebound and pushing it.
“Now, me, Mike [Young], Ryan [Luther] won’t be able to get out in the open floor and run — we need to change the tempo, we can’t play their style, that is the worst thing we can do.”
Forward Jamel Artis added: “We need more transition points in this game, play faster than they are. We know they want to slow the ball down and run their sets through the shot clock, so we need to try and speed them up and look for opportunities in transition.”
Virginia is second in the ACC in points against (60.5 points per game), sixth in field-goal percentage defense (teams shoot 41.9 percent against the Cavaliers) and first in rebounding defense (28 per game).
A tough man-to-man, “pack-line defense” along with an efficient offense that values possessions and low turnover numbers has become the calling card under coach Tony Bennett and made the Cavaliers one of the toughest teams to beat in recent seasons. Virginia has won back-to-back ACC regular-season titles in an era when rules changes have been designed to increase scoring.
Dixon agrees with Jeter and Artis that a faster pace would favor the Panthers, but he laughed at the idea that it is as easy as just pushing the ball forward in transition. He said every team the Cavaliers play wants to push the ball and play the game faster but very few are successful.
“They are good in the transition defense, too,” he said. “It is easy to say, ‘let’s get it out and run,’ but that is their strength, they get back, they don’t send guys to the offensive glass. Their pace is big, they are a good rebounding team and they don’t turn it over.
“That is all a part of getting baskets in transition, but why they are so good defensively is that their transition defense is very good and they don’t turn the ball over. They will have guys back, they will be prepared — but, as always, we are looking to attack and get out and we have a little faster group.”
Dixon said the pace of the game can be important, but he believes the Panthers could win if it turned into a possession-by-possession slugfest because that is how they have traditionally played. He also stressed the importance of not falling too far behind like they have in some recent games. Pitt has been behind by 10 or more points at halftime in three of their past four games.
“We really have to get off to a good start, we have to play well early,” he said. “You can’t let a team like Virginia get ahead early, we have talked a lot about that the last few days.
“With their pace and the way they play, we certainly don’t want to fall behind. We have to defend first, we have to get long rebounds, we have to get deflections — we have to get stops.”
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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