Pitt hopes 'zone-killer' Jamel Artis can rebound against Syracuse
March 9, 2016 12:16 AM
Matt Gentry / Associated Press
Pitts' Jamel Artis drives on Virginia Tech's Jalen Hudson during the first half on March 2.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jamel Artis has struggled in Pitt’s past two games, and that is a big reason the Panthers went 0-2 and are once again scrambling to secure an NCAA tournament spot.
In losses at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech last week, Artis went 3 of 17 from the field, 0 of 7 from 3-point range and had just 11 points and four rebounds. Artis entered the Georgia Tech game averaging 14.7 points and five rebounds per game and shooting 47.8 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said the Panthers obviously need Artis to play well, and they are hoping to get him back on track starting today at the ACC tournament in Washington. Perhaps there is no better opponent for Artis to get on track again against than Syracuse, a team he has feasted on the past two seasons.
The Panthers (20-10) are the No. 8 seed in the ACC tournament and will play the No. 9 Orange (19-12) in a second-round game at noon today at Verizon Center.
The Panthers swept the Orange this season and have beaten them four times over the past two seasons. A big reason is the play of Artis, whom teammates refer to as a “zone killer” because he usually produces big games against zone defenses. The numbers seem to back that up, at least against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. In the past four games against the Orange, Artis has scored 75 points (18.8 per game), grabbed 36 rebounds (9 per game) and dished out 24 assists.
Dixon, who has said Artis is like the quarterback of his offense against a zone because so much of it runs through him, is hoping the junior forward has similar success today. “[Artis] seems to do well against zone. … We put him in a pretty good spot against the zone. We get him a lot of touches and looks where he is effective with the ball.
“We will get different types of shots and different looks against the zone. We need to get some layups early in the game and shot selection is the No. 1 thing when it comes to making shots.”
Artis’ passing ability and midrange jumper make him dangerous against a zone. Dixon likes to position him at the the elbow of the free-throw line and lane line, and the Panthers work the ball into him so he can make decisions based on what the defense is showing. In general, Artis will look to pass the ball deeper inside the zone to another big man, kick it outside for an open 3-pointer or turn and shoot a jumper in the lane.
Dixon said another key to beating the zone is moving the ball and forcing the defenders to move from side to side. That opens passing lanes to the rim, as well as opportunities for the Panthers to get inside position for offensive rebounds. Pitt outrebounded the Orange, 86-48, in the two games against them this season. That includes a 33-14 edge on the offensive boards and a 34-6 edge in second-chance points.
“Our rebounding has been very good against them,” Dixon said. “But getting the ball inside and attacking the zone are important. We didn’t and can’t settle for jump shots and we defended them well, especially the last one.
“We can’t rely on making jump shots. We have to move the defense so they are recovering and spread out and then you can have offensive-rebounding opportunities. We really concentrate on attacking the zone and playing inside out.”
This is the first time since the Panthers have joined the ACC that the tournament is not in Greensboro, N.C., a far cry from trips to New York and Madison Square Garden for the Big East Conference tournament.
Dixon said he expects the D.C. trip to be a great experience for fans and players. “The facility is great, the location is great, and it is great being right downtown. I think when people see it there, they will think it is as good of an experience as they have ever had.
“Playing in D.C., in the capital, with all the things to do, it will be almost like New York in a different way.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.
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