ShareThis Page

Pitt basketball readies for pressure test

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt forward Talib Zanna plays Cincinnati at Petersen Events Center Dec. 2012.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt forward Talib Zanna plays Cincinnati at Petersen Events Center Dec. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

For a team whose leading scorer hasn't reached double digits in four games and isn't ranked among the top 30 in the Big East, there are other ways to win.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has preached fundamentals, especially rebounding and good defense, and his team has responded. The Panthers lead the conference in scoring defense (54.5 ppg) and rebounding defense (27.1 rpg).

That's perhaps the chief reason Pitt (16-4, 4-3), with top scorer Talib Zanna averaging 11.7 points per game but only 5.8 in the past four, has won three in a row entering its matchup Saturday against DePaul (10-8, 1-4) at Petersen Events Center.

But to continue its rise through the Big East standings, Pitt must resume another basic task: Protect the basketball.

“We have to handle the press. We have to know they are going to be coming at you,” Dixon said of the Blue Demons. “They want to get up and down and shoot quick, make you shoot quick.”

DePaul is third in the Big East in steals (9.56 per game), but Pitt counters with patience on offense and a plus-4.3 turnover margin, which is second in the conference.

Dixon said Providence tried to keep his players off balance Tuesday with pressure defensive tactics similar to what DePaul will try. Pitt remained calm and hit 51 percent of its field-goal attempts in a 68-64 victory.

“I thought we did a good job not settling for contested jump shots,” he said.

“They aren't the only team to pressure us this season,” said freshman guard James Robinson, who is averaging a team-high 28.1 minutes per game.

If the shooting percentage slips, Pitt needs to counter with strong defense, which it never displays often enough to suit Dixon.

“Our (defensive) numbers are pretty good,” he said. “They're OK. We know where our weaknesses lie, and we are attacking those constantly. We will never be satisfied. We've had as good a defensive team (as any team) in the country at certain times and haven't been satisfied.”

Before the Providence game, Pitt was sixth in the nation, allowing 53.9 points per game, but Providence beat that number by more than 10. Still, Pitt is No. 1 in the Big East.

Pitt's defense must be wary of forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young, who are fifth and seventh in the Big East in scoring at 17.6 and 16.7 points. Both are three-year starters.

Robinson knows Young well after the two played together in AAU basketball on the nationally known Team Takeover.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.