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Panthers plan to use transition game as they transition to ACC

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt players have a shoot-around during the program's first media day as a member of the ACC on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt head basketball coach Jamie Dixon addresses the local media on the first media day as members of the ACC at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday September 26, 2013.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Members of the 2013-14 Pitt men's basketball team during the first media day as members of the ACC at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday September 26, 2013.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna gives an interview during the first media day as members of the ACC at Petersen Events Center on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.

When Jamie Dixon talks about transition, the Pitt coach isn't referring strictly to moving to the ACC.

Perhaps no team personified the Big East's bruising reputation more than the Panthers, but Dixon promises that this team will play more up-tempo with a younger, leaner lineup.

“We were very good offensively last year, but there were some things that we can do better,” Dixon said. “We're going to have good size. I think we'll run a little better. We'll be a little bit more skilled at the ‘four.' I think we've got a good group, a versatile group.”

Pitt opens practice Friday, and will host a Morning Madness at 10:30 Saturday at Stage AE on the North Shore.

Pitt also announced that its Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair/Fan Fest/Blue-Gold scrimmage will be Oct. 6 at Petersen Events Center, with the Oakland Zoo Blue-Gold scrimmage Oct. 18 at the Pete.

The Panthers return three starters — sophomore point guard James Robinson and fifth-year seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna — along with redshirt junior Cameron Wright and redshirt sophomore Durand Johnson.

They must replace 51.3 percent of their scoring after leading scorer Tray Woodall and Dante Taylor graduated, J.J. Moore and Trey Zeigler transferred and Steven Adams left for the NBA.

The most pressing concern is at shooting guard, which appears to be one of two starting positions up for grabs.

“I think that was our deficiency last year, I thought, at the two,” Dixon said. “We didn't get what we needed. We could've won the league instead of finishing in the top four. We had young perimeter guys last year. Now, we're looking at having an experienced group. That's funny. You go from young to old very quick.”

Dixon mentioned Patterson, Wright, Johnson and redshirt freshman Chris Jones as candidates to play shooting guard, although it's also possible that Robinson could play there if speedy freshman Josh Newkirk is at point guard.

“He needs to be a guy that knocks down shots,” Dixon said of Robinson. “He does a lot of good things, but he needs to be a guy that's a knockdown 3-point shooter, no question.”

Dixon said he doesn't expect to redshirt any players this season, and indicated that at least one newcomer will start in the frontcourt.

Zanna is expected to move from power forward to the post, allowing the Panthers to be more of a running team.

“I think we're going to get more transition stuff,” Dixon said. “Everybody talks about the guard that runs, that pushes it. Often times, it comes down to your bigs, how fast they can run. And Talib is going to be as fast as anyone we play against.”

Rutgers transfer Derrick Randall and junior-college transfer Joseph Uchebo also will provide depth in the post. That likely would leave freshmen Jamel Artis and Mike Young to battle for the starting spot at power forward

“I think a freshman is going to start, as I look at it now,” Dixon said. “Somebody new is going to start on the front line, I'll give you that.

One noticeable thing about the Panthers is that they are visibly leaner. Patterson, for example, lost 18 pounds in the offseason. Robinson trimmed body fat while training with USA Basketball. And the 6-foot-7 Artis, who arrived at 243 pounds, is now 225.

“We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us, especially moving to a new league,” Robinson said. “One thing as a team that we've really been trying to work on is our bodies. As you can see, a lot of us having been aiming to change our bodies and get quicker, faster and more athletic. That's all going to help us playing to the style we hope to play this year.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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