Does Pitt need a go-to guy for an NCAA run?
Tray Woodall, pictured with Dante Taylor on Sunday at St. John's, may be the closest thing to a go-to player that Pitt has.
Share with others:
Ask any Pitt fan, and they'll be happy to rattle off the reasons the Panthers have failed to reach a Final Four under coach Jamie Dixon. The most popular response is a familiar refrain in these parts.
Everyone together now: Pitt doesn't have a go-to guy.
And they might be right. A go-to guy is loosely defined in March Madness vernacular as an NBA-caliber player, most times a guard in recent college basketball history, capable of carrying a team to victory in a game or games in the NCAA tournament.
Dixon has not produced an NBA guard unless one counts Sam Young, who played power forward and small forward at Pitt but has been mostly a shooting guard in the NBA. Even if Young is counted, he was not the player taking all the big shots in big games during his time (2005-2009) at Pitt.
On many occasions, including Pitt's Elite Eight run in 2009, that duty fell to point guard Levance Fields. Young himself often noted that he wanted Fields to take those shots because he was clutch in those situations.
Tray Woodall's 25-point game Sunday against St. John's rekindled the talk of whether Pitt needs a go-to guy to be successful in the NCAA tournament.
But even if Woodall averages 25 points per game over the final three games of the regular season, he would enter the postseason averaging fewer than 13 points per game. He is not and never has been that type of player.
That's not likely to happen anyway because Dixon has not built the Panthers to be that type of team. Like so many of his other teams, Dixon has structured this team to be well-balanced and share the ball on offense.
"It's what you have," Dixon said. "You play to your strengths. This team, the strength is the 10 guys. This team, its strength is in its balance."
It's a formula that has not produced a Final Four for Pitt, but other coaches have gotten there with the same approach to offense in recent years.
Louisville did not have a player who averaged more than 13 points per game a year ago. There were no stars and likely no future NBA players. But that did not prevent the Cardinals from reaching the Final Four and putting a scare into eventual national champion Kentucky in a national semifinal game.
In Louisville's four NCAA tournament victories, three players led the team in scoring -- Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan and Russ Smith (twice). And none of them led the team in scoring for the season. That was Kyle Kuric, who averaged 12.6 points per game. Coach Rick Pitino, as well as Dixon, traditionally has balanced scoring throughout his lineup.
Pitino had six players average between 9.1-12.6 points per game. And any of them were capable of carrying the load in a given game.
Pitt is using a similar approach this season and has for most of Dixon's tenure, save for a season or two when Young was a prolific scorer. This Pitt team is not quite as balanced as Louisville's Final Four team, but it is comparable. The Panthers have five players averaging between 7.1-11.4 points per game.
Louisville is not the only recent example of a team to reach a Final Four with a balanced scoring lineup that was without a star. In 2011, VCU reached the Final Four in the same way. Four players averaged between 10.4-15.7 points per game and none of them played in the NBA.
The team that ousted VCU in a national semifinal in 2011 and No. 1 seed Pitt earlier in that tournament was Butler, which had an NBA-caliber guard in Shelvin Mack who scored 30 points to beat the Panthers in an NCAA third-round game. (Mack was drafted by the Washington Wizards and is currently in the NBA developmental league.)
No Pitt player from 2011 played in the NBA and likely never will. What the Panthers had was a bunch of good college players who learned how to win together as they came up through the ranks.
The team that beat Butler in the NCAA title game that same season was Connecticut, which had Kemba Walker. He carried the Huskies to the NCAA title and a few months later was an NBA lottery pick.
"It works different every year," Dixon said. "The year before, Connecticut didn't get there when Kemba was scoring a lot of points. It's who is making shots. Who makes the layup? Who misses the layup? Who hits the 3? Who misses the free throw? It's going to be close games all the way through. Someone will win a couple of close games. That's what it comes down to."
First Published February 26, 2013 12:00 am