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Tag:Jamie Dixon
Posted on: March 7, 2012 5:52 pm
 

Ashton Gibbs takes blame for Pitt's season

By Jeff Goodman

Ashton Gibbs was about as stand-up as it gets. 

"It's been a rough season from beginning to end," Pittsburgh's senior guard said after the Panthers were knocked out of the Big East tournament by Georgetown on Wednesday. "A lot of it has to do with me not living up to expectations." 

"I didn't live up to it," he added. "I did a bad job leading this year and it clearly showed." 

But let's be honest. It was far more than just Gibbs not performing up to his potential. 

"This team lost a lot," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We've been able to overcome it in the past. We weren't able to do it this year." 

Three years ago, Dixon lost his top three players -- Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields. Pittsburgh wound up winning 25 games the next season and finished 13-5 in Big East play. 

The Panthers have been a rock in the Big East since Dixon followed his former boss, Ben Howland. No program has had more success in league play over the past 11 years. There's the 290-87 overall mark, the 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and the 20 Big East tournament victories. The Big East tourney titles in 2003 and 2008. 

That's why everyone penciled Pittsburgh into the league title race and handed the Panthers a spot in the Top 25 prior to the start of the season despite losing Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown. 

But this year's edition is now 17-16 overall and finished 5-13 in the Big East - likely headed to the NIT. 

"It's obviously something I didn't even think about," Gibbs said. "I wouldn't have believed it in a million years that we wouldn't make the NCAA tournament at the end of the season." 

"But we'll play in NIT if we get invited," he added. "If not, we'll move on."

Gibbs' leadership -- of lack thereof -- was a piece. So was the injury sustained to starting point guard Travon Woodall which kept him on the sidelines for 11 games. There was the transfer of highly touted big man Khem Birch after the first semester and also numerous injuries to senior Nasir Robinson, Gibbs and others. 

"It all started with me not being the senior leader," Gibbs said.

Noble, but not entirely accurate. 

Posted on: February 8, 2012 4:36 pm
 

Woodall's pain in the butt extends to opposition

By Jeff Goodman

Each game, just about 45 minutes prior to tip-off, Travon Woodall makes certain not to move as the needle is jabbed into his, well, buttocks. It'll happen around 6:15 p.m. tonight before Pittsburgh's junior point guard takes the floor against South Florida. 

"If I move," Pittsburgh's junior point guard laughs. "I have to do it again." 

Woodall isn't 100 percent recovered from the abdominal/groin injury he suffered way back on Nov. 30 and likely won't be full-strength for the remainder of the season. However, his return and presence as the Panthers floor leader has keyed the team's turnaround. 

"I'm nowhere near 100 percent," he said. "But with the needle, I don't feel any pain. The most pain is after the game when it wears off." 

Since he's come back, Jamie Dixon's team has reeled off four of its past five -- including a road win against West Virginia and a home victory over a ranked Georgetown club - to move from 0-7 in Big East play to 4-7. 

"One game at a time," said Woodall, who is honestly one of the best interviews I've done in a long time.

Woodall may not be completely healthy, but he couldn't take sitting and watching his teammates falter any longer. He tried it once, against Notre Dame in late-December, but he was completely ineffective and shut it down again for the next five games. 

With Woodall in the lineup, the Panthers are 10-3. Without him, they are 5-6. And in two of those games - losses against Notre Dame and Louisville, he wasn't even close to 100 percent. 

"Anyone who knows the game of basketball understands how important the point guard is to our team," Woodall said. "If you took Brad Wanamaker off our team last year, it wasn't have been nearly as good. Ashton (Gibbs) is a huge part of our team, but he isn't a true point guard. We needed a true point guard." 

"The point guard is like the quarterback," he added. "I know the Giants wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without Eli (Manning)." 

You've got to love a kid who compares himself (and he wasn't really comparing himself) to the Super Bowl MVP. 

This was supposed to be The Year for Woodall. He has waited his turn for the past three years to take the starting point guard role. He worked out relentlessly with former Pittsburgh floor leader Lavance Fields in the offseason, often three times a day, so he'd be prepared for this opportunity. This is the same guy who accepted his role coming off the bench as a senior for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony's in favor of Tyshawn Taylor, Mike Rosario, Jio Fontain and Dominic Cheek. 

"I've tried to play my role since I got here," Woodall said. "But this was finally my time." 

However, then came the defensive slide against Duquesne in which he suffered the lower abdominal and groin injury. Woodall sat out the next six games and then tried to come back following a shocking home loss against Wagner. 

"That was just me being frustrated," Woodall said. "I wasn't ready, but I just couldn't sit there and watch any more." 

But the loss to Wagner was just the start of the team's troubles. Pittsburgh dropped its first seven league games and was written off by just about everyone for an NCAA tourney berth. 

Then Woodall came back and everything changed. Next up is tonight's road contest against South Florida -- and a victory would inch the Panthers back into the hunt, especially if those on the NCAA Selection Committee understand the importance Woodall makes to this team. 

"One at a time," Woodall repeated.

Posted on: January 6, 2012 11:35 am
Edited on: January 6, 2012 11:44 am
 

Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon appear unlikely to dance

No Dixon, no Wright in the tournament? It's looking more likely, folks. (AP)

By Jeff Goodman

Jay Wright and Jamie Dixon were supposed to, at one time before Pittsburgh decided to bolt for the ACC, carry the torch for the Big East once senior citizens Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun left. 

Wright and Dixon have been two of the hottest coaches in America over the past few years. Both have spurned no shortage of big-time suitors and both have built their programs into national contenders. 

Both may be watching the NCAA tournament as spectators this season. 

Wright has led 'Nova to seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances - including an Elite Eight in 2006 and a Final Four in 2009. But this current group is just 7-8 after last night's home loss to South Florida. 

Dixon may not have led the Panthers to a Final Four, but he's been just as successful, going to the Big Dance in each of his eight seasons since taking the reigns from Ben Howland. Dixon actually had a chance to go to the Final Four, but lost to Wright in the Elite Eight in 2009. 

Now his team has lost four straight for the first time in the Dixon Era following last night's road setback to DePaul. The Panthers sit -- along with 'Nova and Providence -- at the bottom of the Big East with an 0-3 mark. 

Villanova, with a sub-.500 overall mark, has virtually no shot of getting to the NCAA tournament this season unless the Wildcats go on an insane run in the Big East. 

Pittsburgh has dug itself quite a hole with losses to two mid-tier Big East teams (Cincinnati and Notre Dame) as well as DePaul. The Panthers most impressive win to date? I'm not sure there is one. 

Dixon needs Travon Woodall back. He has missed eight games due to injury -- including the losses to Wagner, Cincinnati and Depaul. He played 18 minutes in the setback against Cincinnati, but was ineffective and has missed two games since. 

With Woodall, the Panthers can still make a run. However, he needs to come back healthy soon. Next up is a home game against Rutgers, but then comes the key stretch whether Pittsburgh can jump back into the NCAA tournament equation. Four of its next five come against ranked teams - including road games at Marquette and Syracuse to start. 

Just about everyone has down years. It happened to Kentucky in the Billy Clyde Gillispie Era, Jim Calhoun and Roy Williams were in the NIT not all that long ago. 

But few saw this coming with both Dixon and Wright. 


Posted on: December 10, 2011 7:26 pm
 

Young Pitt remains as good and tough as ever

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — Pitt doesn’t do pretty. Never has, and under Jamie Dixon it never will.

But good God, if the Panthers are able to continually rebound the way they have, then yes: Pitt will put itself in a position for a high seed in the NCAA tournament and have a chance to get to the Final Four. (Let’s save the Pitt/March talk, jokes and doubts for March, though.)

What’s clear as of now: the best rebounding team in the country keeps getting better, and as long as that’s the case, Pitt’s still in the class of the Big East’s best. It can plough its way to the rim in league games to remain respected and the toughest of outs.

My mea culpa comes now, because even if the Panthers haven’t played a terrific schedule, with all the youth they have, they still haven’t deviated from how they play. I didn’t think the Panthers were set to have another big year in the paint, thought they had backcourt problems and would take a significant step back. But it’s not looking like the case. Even if Pitt winds up not being as good this year as it was last, a “significant step back” seems highly unlikely now.

Jamie Dixon’s team looks really good. It was gruff and won despite only forcing four turnovers against Oklahoma State Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

You don’t need a lot of turnovers if you’re grabbing so many rebounds. Rebounds are really disguised as turnovers that require more work and less luck. The Panthers covet them like Christmas cookies. Heading into the game, Pitt had a nation-leading 45.5 offensive-rebounding percentage. It took down 61 percent (14 offensive boards) of second-chance snares against Oklahoma State, 43 rebounds in all.

“It’s ingrained in our program. We recruit guys with a nose for the ball, and our offense is predicated on offensive rebounding, too,” Dixon said. “I know that may sound strange or inconsistent, but good offense leads to good offensive rebounding.”

Dixon’s club did what it does best because it had to, since Travon Woodall did not play. Woodall’s the Pitt point guard who will be out until early January with a groin injury. Most teams would slag without a Woodall-type guy. Maybe Pitt does over the course of his absence, but it made just fine without him Saturday. One-time and still-for-hire Pitt 1 Ashton Gibbs was fine scoring 17 — but only getting two dimes. Gibbs played 39 minutes against that ab workout of a Pokes press.  

“Ashton Gibbs just controls the game,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “And Nasir Robinson may be my favorite player. I was afraid I was scaring my team with the way I was hyping him up (to them). He’s not trying to be something that he’s not, and so many guys these days try to (prove to) guys, ‘I can shoot jump shots.’”

(Quick aside on Oklahoma State: Travis Ford joked about how he was sick of the Garden, since all his team’s losses (three) came in MSG this season.)

As for the early-season talk, Dixon gets it and concurs with the majority on this team. He doesn’t think they deserved to be talked about among the nation’s best, and it’s still a work-in-progress. Yeah, yeah, every coach spits out that rhetoric, but at least Dixon owns up to the rebounding personality of his team and admits it’s all of what they are right now. He said the turnovers are low because he doesn’t encourage his team to chase after steals when he considers rebounds more important.

“We were a little bit off the radar because of our youth, but we have six freshmen and it’s understandable,” Dixon said. “But we didn’t want to be one of those elite teams in November. We’ve got work to do, so we don’t feel we are [the best], so I’ve no problems with whoever’s saying it. This is a good win but we have a lot of work to do.”

Robinson, Khem Birch, Lamar Patterson — who arguably had his best game in a Pitt uniform, grabbing 10 board, scoring 12 points and tallying seven assists — and Dante Taylor (pictured above) are budding as a formidable forward/frontline foursome. They don’t all play at once, but the reliability of so many capable guys down low is something different from what Dixon’s had before, when there’s usually been one or two studs surrounded by undersized overachievers.  

They need those bigs to continue to play ike this, because “no one is playing with three freshmen guards. I don’t recommend it,” Dixon said. “We’re fighting through some things, but I’ve liked how we’ve responded.”

The schedule gets tougher soon, but so far Pitt’s not shown any true sign of dropping off or defaulting from what it’s been about with Dixon.

Photo: AP

Posted on: October 28, 2011 10:50 am
Edited on: October 28, 2011 7:42 pm
 

New recruiting model garners favorable reaction



By Jeff Borzello

Recruiting needed to change. Everyone knew it – including the NCAA.

On Thursday, the NCAA Board of Directors adopted a new recruiting model for men’s basketball, changing or adjusting six major rules. More importantly, the rules will go into effect within the next several months, meaning we won’t have to wait two or three years for the changes – like most of the NCAA’s changes.

The two biggest changes, according to most people, are the deregulation of contact between coaches and recruits, and the fact official visits can now begin January 1 of a prospect’s junior year. Other major adjustments included opening up April for two weekends to coaches, while trimming July into three four-day periods. On-campus evaluations during official visits and contact at a recruit’s high school during their junior year are also permitted under the new model.

The changes will affect everyone, from college coaches to AAU coaches to high school coaches, as well as high school players and their parents. All of the changes seem geared towards speeding up the recruiting process and making it more involved at an earlier age. With the number of recruits making early decisions nowadays, it makes sense – too many kids were committing without going on official visits or getting enough evaluation time from coaches.

While the feedback has been generally favorable from all the parties involved – although many said nothing touched on agents and runners – not everyone is happy with each of the rule changes. To get a true feel of what each party thought, we reached out to 10 people – college coaches, AAU coaches, high school recruits and parents – to see what they think. Here are the interviewees:

  • Jamie Dixon, head coach, Pittsburgh
  • Josh Pastner, head coach, Memphis
  • Paul Hewitt, head coach, George Mason
  • Chris Walker, No. 5 prospect in 2013
  • Brannen Greene, No. 16 prospect in 2013
  • Dinos Trigonis, AAU coach, Belmont Shore
  • Matt Ramker, AAU director, Florida Rams
  • Marland Lowe, AAU coach, Texas PRO
  • Arisa Johnson, mother of Jaylon Tate, No. 73 prospect in 2013
  • Kelana Rivera, mother of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, No. 38 prospect in 2012 and Georgetown commit

We went rule-by-rule with each person to get a brief response or thought on the rule.

Contact is mostly deregulated starting June 15 after a recruit’s sophomore year. Coaches will be allowed to send unlimited text messages, make unlimited phone calls and send unlimited private messages via social media websites.

Dixon: “We already had unlimited email, so it won’t be that much different. The monitoring of it was the basis for it. The lost time allotted for it was becoming endless. We were having violations where a kid texted you, but you thought it was an email, and you responded with a text.”

Pastner: “95 percent of kids would rather text than talk on the phone. You find out earlier who’s interested in you. I’d rather the kid tell us he’s not interested. It puts some responsibility on the kid. There needs to be honest communication.”

Hewitt: “I think anything you can do to put college personnel in the lives of these kids helps. Not that everyone needs that type of guidance, to explain to them what eligibility means, classes, official visits, rules. Those types of things, if we can have college personnel in the recruiting process, it definitely take some of the mystery out of it.”

Walker: “I think it’s going to be good, plus crazy. I’m going to get blown up everyday – all day now. I don’t care though, I ignore people half the time but it will be alright.”

Greene: “I’m really going to see who wants me, but it might get a little overwhelming.”

Trigonis: “I think it’s a dumb thing. Instead of unlimited contact, should give parents power to decide contact. Form where parent sets up parameters for contact. It’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t mind the more contact, I think they needed to give more. But how can you go from no contact to unlimited contact?”

Lowe: “I think that all the kids and parents better make sure they have an unlimited texting plan. It’s good for the coaches to be able to communicate with the kids, establish an initial relationship. You have to be careful, though, kids have to put their phone down sometimes.”

Johnson: “It’s a bit excessive because it can be overwhelming when you have multiple coaches calling. It’s going to get out of control; it’s going to be too much for the kids to keep up with. It’s going to get to a point where a lot of these coaches are going to be ignored. They’re starting to feel a little annoyed. The attention at the beginning, they welcome it. But after awhile, it gets irritating. The relationship will start to break down.”

Rivera: “I think there has to be some sort of cut-off times or maximum number of calls with the player. Maybe unlimited contact with parents. They would likely tire of the recruiting process quickly, if they are constantly fielding calls. They may become more distracted and consumed with that as opposed to school, practices, family, church, etc.”

Two weekends in April will be opened up to college coaches.

Dixon: “I was a huge proponent of that. Certain coaches prefer to not have April, because they get to see kids during the year that no one else sees.”

Pastner: “I think it’s good, it’s all positives. You can see more prospects at once. Evaluate.”

Hewitt: “I think it’s a very smart move. You look at a guy taking over a job. I think it helps a coach to go out there. It will help on cutting down on transfers. You watch a kid throughout his high school, highest level of competition with their travel team. Now you may have him go against another 3-4-5 division-I players. It’s a more accurate evaluation, and that hopefully leads to fewer transfers, which will help APR.”

Walker: “It’s good because the people without offers and much exposure could get more exposure and offers and opportunities, so that’s a good look.”

Greene: “I really like that addition. I think it’s positive because kids get two extra chances to impress the college coaches.”

Ramker: “I personally like having just July. It was more of the true essence of summer basketball. April will be better for coaches, evaluations heading into July. I don’t think it’s a bad change.”

Lowe: “There won’t be as many transfers as there have been in the past. I think it’s a great opportunity for the schools overall. It’s too easy to make errors when you can watch them in July only.”

Johnson: “When they all have to wait until July, and they all come out at one time, it can be overwhelming. At those tournaments, to see all those coaches lined up against the wall like that, it can be intimidating and uncomfortable. It takes away their concentration and focus. They’re trying to figure out which coaches are there, and who’s there to see me. The kids will be a little more focused and less distracted.”

Rivera: “That way, the players aren’t feeling the need to be in every single event in July. Trying to fit everything into a couple of weeks in July adds stress to families and on the players’ bodies. Not to mention, it would likely be better for coaches and their families as well.”

July will be trimmed to three four-day periods, as opposed to two 10-day periods

Dixon: “I think it’s far better. If people saw how few evaluations we had other than July, people are often times surprised. They’re few and far between, and not to the level of July. A high school game, you’re not always going to see someone playing against someone at his level, and that’s your evaluation. Offers are being made in April, and as head coaches you’re seeing them even more rarely.”

Hewitt: “I think it’s a very positive step for the kids that are playing. When they start playing 10 days in a row, it leads to injuries. Overuse, stress-related injuries.”

Walker: “It causes us to get more rest because last summer I was tired as hell from all the back-to-back tourneys.”

Greene: “I think it’s beneficial to the college coaches and their health and well-being. For us players, I think it’s an OK rule. But I personally like the two-period July better. I just liked continuously playing in front of college coaches.”

Trigonis: “You’re going from 20 to 12 days. How does that help the smaller schools? That’s a big advantage for the bigger schools. Why not just make it four straight days? Ultimately what they’ve done, they’ve killed the smaller, regional events. Why does it have to be, I give so I have to take? It’s childish. It really is.”

Ramker: “A lot of the tournaments we do to keep kids busy. This will give us three tournaments, won’t have to play just for the sake of playing. Teams will be sharper, kids won’t be as tired.”

Johnson: “When you just have those couple of opportunities, it adds more pressure. It creates more pressure. You think, ‘this is my chance, this is my shot.’ You really lose the concept of team ball. It’s not about team anymore; it’s about the individual player, because you’re looking at limited opportunities.”

Official visits can begin January 1 of a recruit’s junior year, with travel expenses for the recruit and his family being paid for by the school

Dixon: “The influence of third-party people was magnified by unofficial visits. From the end of the high school season to visits were a six-month period where it was all the paying for scouting services, paying for exhibition games, paying for campers – all based around trying to get kids to their campus. Now you can bring both parents. We were empowering the middleman. I had hoped the official visits would start in April. We wouldn’t want one of our players to visit NBA teams during our season.”

Pastner: “A lot of that has something to do with strategy. When do you bring him in? Is it too early? You don’t want to bring him in too early, if he’s not ready to commit. And if he does, that’s a long time to keep him committed. Kids change their minds a lot these days.”

Hewitt: “That will benefit the highest-profile programs. I think what will happen is that the highest-level programs will be more able to get a kid to commit early. As for the parents, that’s the best thing they ever could have done. Bringing them into the process, that’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Greene: “I absolutely love that part of the new rule. I was planning on deciding in mid-December, but now I’m going to push it back a month so I can take a few official visits.”

Ramker: “It’s very necessary for parents to go on the visits with their kids. Low socioeconomic backgrounds, parents need to be involved in the decision. Need to sit with the coaches, help their kids make their decisions. That’s the best of all of them. It will cut down on a lot of shadiness. Kids can make decisions earlier; if they know where they want to go, they can get that out of the way.”

Johnson: “I have mixed feelings about that. Kids are being recruited earlier and earlier, and the kids are feeling the pressure that they need to commit early. We’ve had coaches ask us, ‘are you ready to commit today?’ – on an unofficial visit. And we feel it’s still a little early. Kids are committing sooner because they’re afraid another kid is going to commit sooner. It’s part of the whole recruiting process – and we’re kind of getting away from that. Years ago, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t all this big rush and pressure to commit so early in your high school years and career. You lose out on something, the process where I feel you should be able to be recruited, you should be able to get a chance and visit schools and develop relationships, and get a good sense of what the schools have to offer. You could compare different schools and campuses. You could compare and get a feel, hopefully find a school that’s a good fit. You’re not going off the name or reputation of the coach, that’s all a part of the process. If you have this pressure, you’ll miss out. That will help if you can move it up and do it sooner.”

Rivera: “We had a very short time to get officials in this year before practice and everything started. Had we been given the option, we would have definitely gotten a couple in last winter or spring.”

On-campus evaluations during official visits will be permitted

Dixon: “It takes out another rule that was very hard to monitor. It’s almost ridiculous. My office overlooks the floor, so we had three different types of shades put in. There was a push to have actual tryouts, and I was really against it. I thought that would be bad press.”

Hewitt: “I think it’s good to watch them, and it’s not exactly a tryout. Watching a kid workout against your team, it will help reduce misses and fewer transfers.”

Greene: “Sure, why not? I would love for a college coach to be able to see the hard work I put in.”

Ramker: “I didn’t really see a reason why they couldn’t do that in the first place. They all play pick-up anyway, the coaches just couldn’t watch. The coaches could do everything else with them; I don’t know why they couldn’t watch them play pick-up. The changes cut out a lot of the shadiness.”

Lowe: I think it’s fine if the kid wants to do it. You’ll have kids that want to see how they fit in; other kids don’t want to expose themselves. I think it’s good if they want to do it, but not mandatory.”

Johnson: “I think that helps with being able to assess and evaluate. When coaches come out and see you practice or with the AAU teams, that can pique or develop your interest even more. But to be able to watch them and have them come on campus and play with the team – that adds another perspective on how to evaluate the player. And it gives the player a better feel for it as well. I see benefits and advantages on both ends. You can see where you need to be, ultimately, when you leave high school. This is what you’re preparing for.”

Rivera: “That may help the player with making his decision, by having a good feel for the players they could possible be playing with.”

Some contact at a recruit’s high school will be permitted beginning during a prospect’s junior year

Dixon: “It’s a sign of things, of where they are now. Kids are committing during their junior years often times, and so now you’re going to be starting with contact their junior year. The monitoring of it was a gray area. What one school considered a casual greeting, another considered a 20-minute sit-down.”

Pastner: “It will eliminate some of the gray area.”

Hewitt: “I think that’s very intelligent. That’s a very smart rule. If that rule is in effect, Bruce Pearl is still at Tennessee. What it does is help demystify the recruiting process and what you have to do to get to college. It opens it up for the family to ask questions. The more you can have that conversation, the more you put at the front of a kid’s mind. In the past, you’ve seen a kid gets bad advisement from someone, he comes back and he got the wrong information or took the wrong class.”

Ramker: “I thought that was an awful rule, that college coaches could go to a kid’s high school and pretend like they don’t even know them. It will help build a rapport, coaches get a feel for the players, players get a feel for the coaches and parents get a feel. It will cut down on transfers, lead to better evaluations by the players and the coaches. That’s been needed. I think that’s a great change. Coaches need to talk to the kids; kids need to figure out what they want to do.”

Lowe: “It forms a relationship early on. It helps starting to develop a relationship early, as long as it’s not too much contact.”

Johnson: “I think when you want to start trying to get a good vibe from who this person is, who they are as a coach, as a man. You need to do that through interaction, you need to do that through communication. The sooner you can start that, the better. That way, you are able to start building that relationship. It can only enhance how both parties feel about one another, and it’s not limited to I can call you or I can text you, or tweet you. I can see you and talk to you, face-to-face. I like that. I think that works. I don’t see anything negative unless there are several coaches there and they’re all waiting to talk to specific players. I can see that getting out of control, a little uncomfortable, maybe a little intimidating. If there are seven coaches there and they’re all waiting to talk to this one player, I can see that being a turnoff. They really don’t want to talk to all these people right after playing.”

Rivera: “I don’t see anything wrong with that either. As long as there are limitations, which I’m sure there would be. Maybe how many times they can visit, which is already in place I believe. And how long or private the contact is. For instance, if a coach talked with a recruit 10-15 minutes after a big game in the gym, seems OK to me.”

Photo: Blue Devil Nation, US Presswire, Recruiting Spotlight

Posted on: October 26, 2011 9:43 am
Edited on: October 26, 2011 9:55 am
 

Pitt's Robinson returns Monday; 3rd guard open

By Jeff Goodman

Jamie Dixon said that Nasir Robinson should return sooner than expected and is scheduled to practice on Monday.

Robinson had surgery a couple weeks ago on his injured knee.

That'll give Pittsburgh a full team, one that's led by senior guard Ashton Gibbs.

Dixon said that Gibbs and veteran reserve guard Travon Woodall will likely start together in the backcourt - giving the Panthers two guys who can both handle the ball and run the team (Gibbs will play the two with Woodall and will move to the point when Woodall is out).

"There's no sense not having both guys handle the ball," Dixon said.

Dixon has no shortage of frontcourt guys with Dante Taylor, Robinson, Talib Zanna - and freshmen Khem Birch and Malcolm Gilbert.

Look for sophomores J.J. Moore and Lamar Patterson to split time at the wing spot.

So, if everything looks solidified, why does Dixon sound concerned?

Maybe it's because he has six freshmen and just one senior.

Or maybe it's because he's still waiting for a third guard to emerge from a group that consists of redshirt freshmen Cameron Wright and Isaiah Epps - as well as true freshman John Johnson.

"No one has stepped forward yet," Dixon said.
Posted on: October 20, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 3:45 pm
 

Pitt looks to take the next step this season



By Jeff Borzello

NEW YORK – In terms of winning percentage in the last decade, only Kansas and Duke can compare to Pittsburgh.

What separates the Panthers from the upper echelon of basketball powers, though, is the lack of Final Four appearances and national championships. They have reached the Sweet 16 five times in the last 11 seasons, but only advanced past there once. That happened in 2009, when Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds went coast-to-coast to knock off Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight.

“It hangs over our head,” senior guard Ashton Gibbs said. “The fact is, we built a tradition like this. Everyone is looking at us.”

“It’s a motivator,” senior Nick Rivers added. “We haven’t reached our goal yet, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying to reach it.”

Season tips Nov. 7

Heading into this season, Jamie Dixon’s troops are on track for another 25-30-win season, ranking No. 10 in the CBSSports.com Preseason Top 25 (and one). They return seven of their top 10 players from last year, when Pittsburgh won 28 games and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Butler in the second round.

Moreover, the Panthers bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, including five-star big man Khem Birch.

“We’re good enough to win a national title,” Gibbs said.

It all starts with Gibbs in the backcourt. The preseason Big East Player of the Year decided to return to Pitt for his senior season, and is ready to shoulder a bigger load with Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee all moving on from last season’s group.

Gibbs is one of the top 3-point shooters in the country, knocking down nearly 47 percent of his long-range shots en route to a 16.7 ppg clip.

“He’s gotten better each year,” Dixon said. “It’s more of the same.”

Replacing Wanamaker on the perimeter will be a combination of players. Travon Woodall, who was second on the team in assists last season, will help Gibbs at the point guard position, while junior Lamar Patterson and redshirt freshman Cameron Wright are also getting rave reviews for their work so far in practices.

Up front, senior Nasir Robinson returns as a starter – but he will miss three more weeks with a torn meniscus in his knee. Juniors Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor are expected to take a major step forward this season.

With so many players fighting for spots, practices have been filled with energy and hustle.

“There’s a lot of intensity, like I’ve never experienced before,” Rivers said. “It’s wide open. There are a lot of good players. It’s going to depend on who’s consistent, who listens and who works hard.

“We’re a matchup nightmare. You never know who you’re going to have to play against.”

The key for Pittsburgh could be the arrival of Birch. Originally a class of 2012 recruit, Birch decided to reclassify to 2011 last November and play at Pittsburgh this fall. The 6-foot-9 Canadian was one of the best big men in the high school ranks last season, and will look to make an immediate impact.

“He has a great motor, runs the court really well,” Gibbs said, also mentioning fellow freshman Malcolm Gilbert as an impact player. “We just have to see if he lives up to the hype.”

Pittsburgh will be versatile, deep, talented and hungry this season – a difficult combination for most opponents.

Of course, the Panthers will also be as physical and tough as ever.

“We’re going to play Pitt basketball,” Robinson said.

This season, they hope that includes a Final Four berth.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted on: September 22, 2011 1:11 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Dixon not concerned on ACC move for good reason



By Jeff Goodman


Jamie Dixon isn't worried.

At all.

Those who say that Pittsburgh will have difficulty moving from the Big East to the ACC need a dose of reality.

As long as Dixon doesn't bolt back to the west coast - which doesn't appear likely - the Panthers will still compete for league titles.

Yes, even in the ACC.

Pittsburgh was able to do it against the likes of Syracuse, UConn and Louisville, finishing first or second in the league in four of the past five seasons.

The Panthers will be able to do the same against North Carolina and Duke.

In case people haven't noticed, Dixon can coach a little bit - and he'll continue to get players.

"A lot of people are making too much of how it's going to effect our recruiting," Dixon said. "We haven't gotten guys from New York in two years."

J.J. Moore is the lone player out of New York that Pittsburgh has gotten in the Class of 2010, 2011 and thus far in 2012.

Let's face it: Khem Birch would have come to Pittsburgh whether the Panthers were in the Big East or ACC. Same can be said for Dixon's two 2012 commitments - New Zealand big man Steven Adams and DeMatha point guard James Robinson.

And as long as the Big East tournament remains in New York, Dixon and his staff will be able to sell the opportunity to play in Cameron and Chapel Hill - as well as the chance to play in New York.

That's what I like to call a win-win. 

Dixon's already proven he can coach - and he wins largely with under-the-radar, chip-on-their-shoulder players.

He'll play the same somewhat soft out-of-league schedule he always does - and then the Panthers will in the mix for the ACC crown - as has been the case in the Big East for four of the past five seasons.

Photo: US PRESSWIRE
 
 
 
 
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