Five reasons Pitt will/won't make a deep NCAA run
Five reasons Pitt will/won't make a deep run in the NCAA Tournaqment.
Why Pitt Will Advance
Under Jamie Dixon, Pitt is 2-5 in the NCAA Tournament when allowing 70 points or more, 4-3 when allowing 60 points or more but 5-0 when holding opponents to 50 points or fewer.
The Panthers rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense (55.4 ppg). They have held 29 of 32 opponents to 70 points or fewer and 19 to 60 points or fewer this season.
Pitt needs to prevent high-scoring games but has proven to be capable of doing that. The Panthers have allowed 70 points or more only three times this season — one being an overtime loss.
The “10 Strong” mentality has worked this season; every player averages at least 11.6 minutes and 4.3 points a game.
Not only do the backups help wear down opponents but also contribute 26.8 points per game.
Reserve forward J.J. Moore is the team's fourth-leading scorer at 8.1 points a game and has led the team in scoring five times. Dante Taylor provides inside scoring and rebounding, especially on offense, and Durand Johnson is a sparkplug off the bench as a 3-point ace.
Seven of Pitt's eight losses were to nationally ranked opponents and by an average of 6.4 points.
The Panthers have only one defeat by double digits, a 10-point loss at Marquette, and have won close games at Providence and Villanova and overtime games at home over Oakland and Villanova.
That's incredibly important given Pitt's recent history in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers lost to Butler by one in 2011, to Xavier by three in '10 and Villanova by two in '09.
The Panthers have gotten game-winning or tying shots from Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson and James Robinson, so they know that they have clutch performers.
The Panthers are getting 43.5 points a game from their frontcourt, which accounts to 63.7 percent of team scoring.
That's an important metric in the NCAA tournament despite the perception that guards dominate it.
Pitt also has a rare 7-footer. Although Steven Adams' averages of 7.0 points and 6.2 rebounds are modest, he's adept at altering and blocking shots. Between Adams and Taylor, the Panthers are getting 12 points and 10.2 rebounds from the post.
The key will be what type of production the Panthers get from forwards Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson and Moore, who are all capable of double figures have been inconsistent.
The Panthers pride themselves on rebounding so much that Dixon constantly harps on its importance to winning.
Good thing, then, that Pitt led the Big East in rebounding margin (plus-7.1) — that also ranks 13th nationally — and rebounding defense (28.3).
The Panthers are 3-6 when they get outrebounded. But Pitt has proven that when it wins the battle of the boards it can play with anyone in the nation.
Why Pitt Will Go Home
More than half of the Final Four and 22 of 28 NCAA champions have had at least one All-American.
Not only does Pitt lack an All-American but its only All-Big East honoree was fifth-year senior guard Woodall, a third-team pick.
Woodall leads the team in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point percentage, but not having a go-to scorer long has been the knock on Pitt.
It's no coincidence that the Panthers have made their deepest tournament runs when they had an All-American: Sweet 16 appearances in 2003 (Brandin Knight) and '07 (Aaron Gray) and an Elite Eight in '09 (DeJuan Blair and Sam Young).
The Panthers have a history of losing to lower seeds, most notably to No. 10 Kent State as a three seed in 2002, to No. 13 Bradley as a four in '06, to No. 6 Xavier as a three in '10 and to No. 8 Butler as a one in 2011.
In fact, Pitt hasn't beaten a higher-seeded team in the NCAA tournament under Dixon, which is why he ranks third-worst in CBS Sports' Performance Against Seed Expectations (PASE) rankings.
Pitt ranks 118th nationally in scoring at 69.6 points a game and has had only eight players deliver 20-point performances.
The Panthers scored 80 points or more five times and 70 points or more 15 times this season, but only four came in Big East play (two against DePaul and one in overtime).
Pitt is at its best in low-scoring games, which is conducive to conference play but dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. In its 19 NCAA games under Dixon, Pitt has given up at least 70 points seven times and at least 60 seven times.
The Panthers are 7-8 in such tournament games, so they must either play outstanding defense or prove they can keep pace if their opponent is scoring.
The Panthers are shooting 66.4 percent from the foul line this season, which ranks 264th out of 345 Division I teams.
This is Pitt's Achilles' heel; poor free-throw shooting has proven costly in three games this season.
They shot 60 percent (15 of 25) in a nine-point loss to Cincinnati, 50 percent (13 of 26) in an overtime loss to Marquette and 57.9 percent (11 of 19) in a three-point loss to Syracuse in the Big East quarterfinals.
Dixon has depended upon Pitt hitting certain statistical marks for success.
The Panthers need to win the rebounding battle, hold opponents to 40-percent shooting or worse and have more assists than turnovers.
When they do those things, the Panthers tough to beat. But when someone shoots 46.8 percent and forces more turnovers (12) than it allows assists (11), like Syracuse did Thursday, the Panthers get into trouble.
Pitt's 3-point field-goal percentage defense dropped from 21st to 57th nationally after the Orange made 12 of 19, and its turnover margin slipped from 28th to 44th.
The formula works for Pitt in Big East play but leaves little margin for error in the NCAA Tournament.
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