Pitt coach Dixon has luxury of guard depth
While Pitt seeks an identity and consistent play through the early portion of the Big East season, coach Jamie Dixon is finding a valuable ingredient that may help nourish his growing basketball team.
If the strong play of his versatile guards continues, Dixon will enjoy the freedom to substitute in the backcourt with confidence and keep his players fresh for the long run toward March.
“We can't play them all 40 minutes,” he said.
The senior/freshman combination of guards Tray Woodall and James Robinson has started 15 of 16 games — and probably will be part of the starting lineup Saturday when Marquette visits Petersen Events Center — but Cameron Wright and Trey Zeigler are becoming viable options at shooting guard.
“Cameron has had some real good stretches, and Zeig has had some good minutes, too,” Dixon said.
Neither are big scorers, with Wright, a redshirt sophomore, averaging 4.9 points and 16 minutes and Zeigler, the junior transfer from Central Michigan, getting 4.6 and 14.3.
Nonetheless, they perform the parts of the game that casual fans may not notice, but Dixon demands it out of them and rewards those players with more playing time.
For example, Wright, who is nursing a groin injury, attempted only two shots in the 73-45 victory at Georgetown on Tuesday, but he made them both and added three assists and two steals with only one turnover.
Zeigler shot just once from the floor — he made it — and was 5 of 6 at the foul line.
Plus, they offer what Dixon prizes above all else.
“Defensively, they have gotten better, both of them,” Dixon said.
Among Zeigler, Robinson and redshirt freshman Durand Johnson, Pitt has three first-year players Dixon isn't afraid to use in most situations.
“We have Tray and Lamar (Patterson), and the other four are new,” Dixon said. “The hope is those guys will improve and make us a better team.”
Johnson has provided an additional defensive presence after he said he learned the value of playing both ends of the floor in prep school at Brewster (N.H.) Academy.
“At the college level, you have to play defense,” he said. “I feel my role is an energy guy, to come and play defense. That's what I do.”
Against Georgetown, he gave a little more, hitting 2 of 4 3-point attempts. He is 10 of 27 from beyond the arc (37 percent, second on the team to Woodall's 38.6).
Johnson said he felt fortunate that the shot was good.
Asked what might have happened if he missed, he smiled.
“I'd either be back on the bench or coach yelling at me,” Johnson said. Either or.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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