Pitt's scoring bar set on low
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Low-scoring games have been all the rage this season. From the Big East Conference to the Big Ten, and everywhere in between, a lot of teams are having a hard time generating offense.
Pitt has not been immune to the problem. In fact, the Panthers are struggling more than most when it comes to scoring.
In four of the past five games, the Panthers have scored 54 points or fewer. They have scored fewer than 60 points eight times this season. That's the most games without hitting the 60-point plateau since 2003-04, Jamie Dixon's rookie season as head coach.
The big difference that season was the Panthers were 7-3 in such games. When scoring fewer than 60 this season they are 0-8.
Pitt is on pace to tie its worst scoring season since joining the Big East in 1982. The Panthers are averaging 62.4 points per game in conference games. They also averaged 62.4 per game in '83-84.
"You look at all the scores, and they're low," Dixon said. "They've been getting lower and lower as the year has gone on."
Dixon is right. On Sunday, South Florida beat Cincinnati, 46-45. West Virginia scored 44 points in a loss at Notre Dame last week and Louisville has not reached 60 points in three of the past four games.
In the Big Ten, Nebraska was held to 34 points last week by Michigan State. It was the seventh time this season the Cornhuskers failed to reach 50 points.
In the Big 12, Texas A&M, which like Pitt was ranked in the preseason, has scored 52 or fewer seven times this season.
Dixon had a few theories on why scoring is down. He has noticed more teams employing zone defenses, and he said the 3-point line getting moved back in 2008 could be playing a role.
"It seems to me teams are being more patient with the ball," he said. "The 3-point line being back has to have some affect. It can't help scoring. That eventually was going to factor.
"It's never going to be one thing. It's a combination of things. It seems to me teams are being more patient in our league. And we're seeing more zone. More zone is using up more clock, and you're getting lower possessions."
Pitt's schedule might have something to do with its scoring woes. South Florida allows the fewest points per game in the Big East, and the Panthers had to play the Bulls twice. Louisville is one of the better defensive teams in the conference as well, and the Panthers had to play the Cardinals twice.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with the offense," sophomore forward J.J. Moore said. "The teams are playing good defense right now. We just have to execute our plays better. We just have to go out there and play harder."
Part of the problem in recent games is that Pitt's top two scorers are mired in slumps. Leading scorer Ashton Gibbs has been held to single digits in four of the past five games and has not made a 3-point field goal in the past three.
After the loss to Louisville, Dixon said he has had a hard time getting Gibbs to shoot more. The coach said he would rather have Gibbs take a 3-pointer than dribbling into 2-point range. Oftentimes, the shot opportunity he creates is more difficult than the 3-pointer he passed up.
"Passing up a shot can hurt your offense because you're starting all over again, and it lets the defense reset and get back in position," Dixon said. "There are some 3s we would like for him to take. We've talked to him about that. His percentage is not as high as it has been, but he's passed up shots to get different looks."
Junior Tray Woodall, second on the team in scoring, is in a bad shooting slump, too. He has made just 14 of his past 53 attempts from the field. When Woodall and Gibbs were shooting better in Pitt's four-game winning streak the Panthers averaged 77.2 points per game.
So it could be as simple as Pitt's offense goes as Gibbs and Woodall go.
When they are struggling, Dixon said one way to help the offense is to penetrate and draw more fouls. That has been a weakness of the team all season. Moore has been doing a nice job in that regard recently, but others have to do it, too.
"We have to be more aggressive and attack the basket more," Moore said.
First Published February 28, 2012 12:00 am