Five factors are key to Pitt’s finishing season strong


By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

As Pitt (19-10, 8-7 ACC) enters the homestretch of the regular season, the team is hoping to avoid any blemishes on its resumé before traveling to Greensboro for the ACC tournament. With a manageable remaining three games – at Wake Forest (12-16, 4-11 ACC), against Miami (18-10, 8-7 ACC) at home and at Florida State (15-14, 7-9 ACC) — here is a look at what the Panthers must do to finish the regular season with a string of victories.

YOUNG, WILD AND FREE– Michael Young, the Panthers sophomore center, has done everything Pitt could have hoped for this season in terms of switching positions from power forward to center, switching from a mid-range player to doing almost all of his work in the post. Averaging 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a game while seeing his field goal percentage skyrocket from 41.3 percent to 52.6 percent, the Duquesne, Pa., product has been an efficient presence for Pitt. Still, Pitt needs Young to provide just a little more than his per game averages. Pitt is 10-1 in games that Young scores 15-plus points, and just 3-5 when he scores 10 or fewer. The team needs to go to what worked Tuesday against Boston College: feed Young down low and let him do work in the post.

WHATEVER’S WORKING– With the recent emergence of Sheldon Jeter as a capable offensive weapon, the shifting of Chris Jones into a sixth-man role and the significant decrease in Josh Newkirk’s minutes, there is no reason for Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon to stray from those adjustments. Jeter is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court and has earned his 25 to 30 minutes of playing time per game, while Jones has provided what many thought Newkirk would: a guard who can come off the bench to provide a slew of quick points, as he did against Syracuse last weekend, scoring 19 in the Panthers’ 65-61 victory at the Carrier Dome. Newkirk has shown flashes of talent, but has seemed to take a step back this year, and Dixon should not feel the need to experiment with him for significant stretches until he displays some consistency. 

PRESSURE THE PERIMETER– The Panthers’ perimeter defense has been an Achilles’ heel for the team — primarily in losses, such as their matchups against Duke and Virginia Tech. Senior guard Cameron Wright, primarily known for his staunch perimeter defense, has been hobbled throughout the year, which perhaps explains Pitt’s inconsistency defending the three. Junior point guard James Robinson has thrived at times, defensively defending elite long-range shooters — notably shutting down UNC’s Marcus Paige — but still hasn’t been a definitive stopper. The Panthers will need to play solid team defense to ensure that any of their remaining opponents cannot consistently hit a shot from beyond the arc to either end a Pitt rally or kickstart one of their own.

IT’S A TRAP- Every single game in the ACC is a challenge, particularly on the road. It doesn’t matter if it’s a top-ranked Duke team or, as the Panthers learned earlier this year, a last-place Virginia Tech squad. Jamie Dixon must have his team focused on seemingly easy road games, particularly Sunday’s matchup against Wake Forest. Records can be misleading, as the Demon Deacons have shown promise this season and nearly toppled the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers a couple of weeks back. The Panthers can’t overlook any opponent, or their March Madness hopes could be dashed quickly.

EFFICIENCY IS EVERYTHING- The Panthers rank 10th in the nation in assists this season, thanks in part to Robinson, whose 5.2 assists per game ranks third in the ACC. But even more important than the team’s stellar ball movement has been the efficiency with which it has executed it. The team sports the best assists-to-turnover ratio in the country, as well as averaging the fifth fewest turnovers per game of any team. Avoiding giveaways has been key for a Pitt offense that, at times, can go stagnant, and it can’t afford to squander offensive opportunities if it hopes to enter the ACC tournament on a five-game winning streak.


Leave a comment.