Pitt men's basketball team's unselfish offense getting a pass

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, 9:51 p.m.

Jamie Dixon makes it clear that Pitt's program is built upon the principles of defense and rebounding.

The Panthers coach can get defensive, however, when the play of his offense is overlooked.

Pitt's passing and unselfish play have been effective but efficient, as the Panthers rank in the top 10 nationally in a handful of offensive categories.

“It doesn't bother me,” Dixon said. “We're always going to be considered a defensive team. If we have success in games, it's going to be because we defend and are physical.

“You can't control what people write, what people say or think. The facts are different.”

After its 80-65 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, Pitt (15-1, 3-0 ACC) ranks third in the NCAA in assists per possession (0.260), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.752), fifth in assists per field goals made (0.634), eighth in offensive efficiency (1.164) and 10th in assists per game (17.2). Pitt also ranks third with a 57.1 floor percentage, the ratio of scoring possessions to total possessions.

Dixon said he believes his team's willingness to pass makes it more efficient.

“I do think that unselfishness does breed unselfishness,” Dixon said. “It does spread, just like selfishness does, too. It's how I like to watch basketball be played, and I think a lot of people like to watch. I think it's the most effective way to play basketball.”

Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik endorsed Pitt's offense after the Panthers assisted on 19 of their 26 baskets, including 18 of their first 22.

“They're very sound offensively,” said Bzdelik, who also attributed Pitt's success to Lamar Patterson and the Panthers grabbing as many offensive rebounds (16) as his Demon Deacons had defensively. “Their best offense seemed to be when they threw it up on the glass.”

That's shortchanging the Panthers, who often pass up shots to find a more open man. Point guard James Robinson said it starts with the example set by Pitt's top two scorers, Patterson and Talib Zanna.

“We have a team made up of all unselfish players,” Robinson said. “I think we're all capable passers. That's something we try to do: We make sure we share the ball, make sure we get an open shot.”

It's no accident freshmen are following suit.

“Sharing the ball and everyone getting involved is fun,” said Patterson, whose 68 assists lead the team. “The game is fun, and you want to make sure all of your friends and teammates are involved.”

Freshman guard Josh Newkirk beat a defender off the dribble with a spin move and found Zanna open for a baseline dunk in the first half Saturday. Later, a tic-tac-toe play from Patterson to Newkirk led to a Chris Jones basket. Jamel Artis got the rebound on a 3-point miss and dished to Patterson for a layup.

“We recruit guys that already have that tool, that instinct and that ability,” Dixon said. “It might not show up high in rankings. If a guy jumps higher or dunks it better, he'd probably get ranked higher than the guy who passes and throws it to the open guy. ... We look for guys like that.”

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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