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Understated Robinson keeps Pitt moving

| Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, 9:39 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt point guard James Robinson leads the nation with a 6.25 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon demands plenty from senior guard James Robinson.

Dixon harped on Robinson's weight while insisting he become a better leader and defender. For the past two years, Dixon has touted Robinson as one of the best point guards in the ACC.

Robinson is validating Dixon's faith in him. No. 24 Pitt (13-1, 2-0) has won nine consecutive games entering a 4 p.m. matchup Saturday at Notre Dame (10-4, 1-1).

The ACC's career leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, Robinson leads the nation in that category (6.25).

“He's playing lower, playing a little stronger,” Dixon said. “His conditioning is better. He's gotten better each year. He's been healthy. He had some injuries last year that he battled through. He's playing really good basketball.”

Attention is hard to come by for Robinson, who has been overshadowed by North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige — the ACC's Preseason Player of the Year — and N.C. State point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber.

Robinson's game isn't flashy like that of Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson, who is averaging 16.4 points and shooting 50.6 percent from the field, but he's an impact player in his own right who has more steals than turnovers.

Robinson's numbers — 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals — are modest but effective. Pitt averages 85.3 points with Robinson directing the offense, the most in the Dixon era.

“We shoot to have under 10 turnovers a game,” Robinson said after the Panthers committed a season-low four turnovers in their 89-84 win over Georgia Tech. “I had a bad turnover late in the game when they double teamed me at halfcourt. We're still trying to cut down even more on turnovers. That's something coach is preaching — make the right play.”

Opposing coaches have noticed.

Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory called Robinson “one of the most underrated players in the country” after Robinson recorded 18 points, a game-high eight assists and one turnover in 36 minutes.

“He's a guy that you don't really appreciate,” Gregory said. “I don't think anybody does, other than probably other coaches.”

No one appreciates Robinson more than Dixon, who has a special bond with the player who has started 116 of 117 games in his career.

Robinson is Dixon's eyes and ears on the court.

It's a relationship of trust that was forged during the recruiting process when Robinson selected the Panthers over Virginia, Notre Dame, Miami and a host of other schools.

“I was just really comfortable with Coach Dixon,” Robinson said during ACC media day. “He is laid back, but it's not a laid back like he doesn't care. He cares about his players 24-7. He goes to war for us.

“That's the players' coach in him. He's not going to put us in a position to fail, to do bad. As a coach, you can only do so much to put guys in position. It's up to the players to make plays.”

John Harris is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jharris_trib.

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