As Harry Caray used to say, HOLY COW…Coach Jamie Dixon’s program may be the most underrated program in the country. Did you know that Pitt has started 10-0 seven of the last eight seasons? Or how about this one—over the last 9 years, Pitt has the best winning percentage of any team in Big East play, winning 79% of their conference games on their way to 9 straight NCAA tournaments. This season is no different. As the #3 ranked team in the country, Pitt is deep and experienced. They are consistently playing between 9-11 guys who accounted for 86% of their scoring, 88% of their rebounding and 84% of their minutes played for last year’s 25-9 team.
In preparation for Pitt, the first statement assistant coach Jason Shay had under the headline of “Keys to the Game” on his scouting report: “Rebound, Rebound, Rebound.” And for good reason. Pitt is a beast on the offensive boards! They average 15.9 offensive rebounds a game while their opponents average only 17 defensive rebounds. So basically, every shot Pitt misses, their players get the rebound half of the time. That’s impressive! The toughness and physicality that the Pitt program prides itself on will definitely be our biggest challenge. As Coach Pearl told the team in film, “You better buckle up your chin strap boys!”
This week has been mixed with a couple long physical practices followed by meticulous film studies to learn and improve on what we do as we get ready for Pitt. We have a lot to improve on prior to this anticipated cage match. Sure all the above statistics demonstrating Pitt’s talent are impressive but no disrespect to Pitt, it’s about us. How will our preparation carry over to the game? Will we play harder than our opponent, execute our principles and not be distracted by adversity? If so, the result will take care of itself.
With a heavy focus on rebounding, we have pointed out to our guards that they must “rebound down” to help the posts. One of the misnomers about rebounding is that it’s only the posts job. This is not true. Our posts will be busy all night keeping their man off the glass and unable to consistently get high off the ground to snatch rebounds .Thus our guards must rebound. In addition, we have talked a lot about defending their guards through the entire possession. Ashton Gibbs, Brandon Wannamaker and Gilbert Brown may be the best, most experienced guard trio we to face all year, not to mention their other talented guards coming off the bench. Their ability to make plays in ball screen offense and in transition is something that we must account for. To counter this, we must really stay focused on our defensive assignments on the ball AND in help defense because they do a great job of drawing the defense and making the extra pass on their way to 20 assists per game.
Their talent and the atmosphere we will be facing are all things that everyone continues to talk about (and yes, it’s even what I addressed here). However, for us to be successful on Saturday it cannot be what we focus on. We must continue to focus on what we can control. We must be the aggressor. The effort we give, the focus we have and the togetherness that we play with is necessary if we want to continue walking down the road towards achieving our goals.