Ron Cook: One thing's for sure, Pitt basketball can score
January 7, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt's James Robinson, who runs the show for an offensive-minded Panthers team, drives to the net against Georgia Tech's Adam Smith in the first half Wednesday night at Petersen Events Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt has cracked the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since February 2014. It is 13-1. The Panthers have won their two ACC games against Syracuse and Georgia Tech, both at home.
Are they a really good team? Check back for that answer after Pitt takes its show on the road and plays Saturday at Notre Dame and a week from tonight at Louisville. I can’t tell yet because of the easy schedule it has played. But I am prepared to say this right now: Pitt is different.
It is fun to watch. It has skilled offensive players, a bunch, actually. You’re used to watching Pitt win games, 62-59? It beat Georgia Tech, 89-84, Wednesday night at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt hasn’t won a game giving up that many points since it beat West Virginia, 98-95, in 2010. And that game went three overtimes.
Is this Jamie Dixon’s best offensive team?
“I don’t know. Levance Fields’ group was pretty good. We were No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency. Nobody talks about that. We’ve always been near the top,” Dixon said.
“But this team has a chance. We seem to be able to get a good shot every time down the court. We space the floor. We move pretty well. We’re unselfish …
“But 14 games don’t make a season.”
No, but 14 games are enough to know that starters Jamel Artis, Michael Young, Sterling Smith and James Robinson are capable of taking and making big shots. Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones are capable of doing it coming off the bench. For too long, Pitt had one player, if that, who appeared to feel comfortable in a clutch situation. Dixon has options with this team.
It is averaging 85.3 points per game, which will be a Pitt record if it lasts. It shot nearly 50 percent against Georgia Tech, thanks to a 62.1 percent effort in the first half.
It went into the game as the best free-throw shooting team in Division I and made 25 of 30 with three of the misses by big body Rafael Maia. It committed just four turnovers.
That’s called protecting the basketball.
Artis and Young get most of the attention, but Robinson runs this Pitt team. He had eight assists and one turnover against Georgia Tech, increasing his assist-to-turnover ratio to 3.54-to-1, the best in college basketball history. He made 5 of 8 shots, was 7 of 8 from the free-throw line and had four rebounds.
“Not many point guards in the country have that stat line,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “He dominated the game — especially in the first half — without ever dominating the ball.
“He’s one of the most underrated players in the country. He just knows how to play. He doesn’t look like much. But he’s been around. He looks like he’s probably been here for 14 years. He just always makes the right play at the right time. He’s really good.”
Robinson has started 116 of his 117 games at Pitt.
He is Dixon’s type of player, a senior who has stuck with the program and improved each year.
The knock against him always has been his shooting and defense against good, quick guards. Well, he has taken care of that shooting thing.
We’ll find out about his defense as Pitt gets into its ACC schedule.
“He’s been good for us,” Dixon said. “Now, he’s great for us.”
Pitt still must improve defensively to finish high in the ACC standings. Dixon knows that. Georgia Tech shot 48.5 percent and made 50 percent of its 3s.
“On the road, you have to win with defense,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who always has and will believe in defense and rebounding, won’t give in on that point. But he did acknowledge it is tougher to guard now than it has ever been because of the way officials are calling games closely.
“We’re in a different age,” Dixon said. “You put a hand on somebody and it’s a foul. It’s a different game.”
It works both ways for Pitt. The new rules hurt it defensively. But those same rules have helped Pitt become an offensive machine.
It’s different, for sure.
But it’s also a lot more fun to watch.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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