Pitt basketball notebook: Panthers prepare for challenge of Wisconsin


John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

With madness impending, the Panthers are heading midwest.

The Pitt men’s basketball team heaved their bags onto a Lenzner bus at the Petersen Events Center loading bay Wednesday afternoon, preparing for their impending flight to St. Louis to kickstart their 2016 NCAA Tournament journey.

The team has a date against No. 7 seed Wisconsin 6:50 p.m. Friday. At a media availability Wednesday, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, point guard James Robinson and forwards Sheldon Jeter and Jamel Artis spoke about matching up against Nigel Hayes, the similarities they share with their opponent and the importance of passing well.


Perhaps the biggest matchup in Friday’s game comes at forward, with both teams’ main scorers playing that position.

Jeter isn’t intimidated by Wisconsin’s bigs, though, and said Pitt has been stronger and more versatile than the Badgers in the post, at least depth-wise.

“We have to take advantage of our advantages,” Jeter said. “To me, one of our biggest advantages is the four spot with me, Ryan [Luther] and Mike [Young] being stretch fours, and being able to stretch out and shoot.”

However, three of Wisconsin’s four leading scorers are forwards.

Its interior scoring comes mostly via junior forward Nigel Hayes, who averages nearly 17 points per game, and freshman forward Ethan Happ, who averages around 12.

Hayes, who played in the National Championship game last year, stands out to Dixon as a key matchup. The forward has been on the Pitt coach’s radar since Hayes’ high school days.

“I really thought he was going to be a good player, and he’s really progressed,” Dixon said. “I think he’s had a really good year. It’s going to be a hard matchup.”

Jeter said to combat players like Hayes, Pitt has to play at a level it hasn’t yet consistently achieved for 40-straight minutes.

“Even when we’ve had good games, we’ve still had long stretches in which we haven’t played good,” Jeter said. “If we start the tournament off with a great game, it’ll be a great way to start a run.”


Scouting the opposing Wisconsin Badgers, the Panthers see a lot of themselves in their opponents.

“They get scoring out of their four, their five,” Dixon said. “We go with Mike [Young], we go with Ryan [Luther], we go with Sheldon. I think there’s interior scoring.”

With Hayes and Happ manning the forward spots, there are sure to be some battles down low. Dixon also said the two teams’ guards, particularly Robinson and Bronson Koenig, are more similar than people think, and Robinson agreed.

“We match up very well,” Robinson said. “They have some guys that can step out and shoot the ball, and we have some guys that step out and shoot the ball.”

Under new head coach Greg Gard, Wisconsin sometimes trots out three-guard lineups, forgoing a traditional center and moving Hayes to the five.

Jamel Artis isn’t concerned about dealing with a trio of quick guards.

“We have versatile wings and versatile forwards, so I don’t think that will be a problem. We can always switch 1-4, 1-5 so we’ll do well at that,” Artis said. “And, you know, they got to guard us.”


Players and coaches often heap praise upon practices, talking about how great they were leading up to crucial contests.

Robinson elaborated on what exactly makes a practice “good,” citing the team’s workout on Wednesday.

“We had a lot of assists, low turnovers, executed well and were solid on defense,” Robinson said. “You know, all the characteristics you want going into a big game like Friday.”

Jeter said the practice’s primary focus was on those first two items, as he said the team wants to get back to compiling around 20 assists per game, the way it did earlier in the season.

He found that emphasis beneficial.

“Today was probably the best practice we had all week,” Jeter said.

Fixing the team’s ball movement woes is crucial if they want any chance at a tournament run, and the players all seem to be on the same page.

“We know what we have to do,” Artis said. “We have to share the ball … Don’t take tough shots that you aren’t supposed to take. Hold teams to under 35 percent, and when we do that, we win games. Get 20-plus assists, and we’ll be fine.”