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College Basketball Tuesday: Dixon, Pitt forge long-term bond

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 10:41 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon during the game against Penn State earlier this month.
Chaz Palla
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon during the Syracuse game during quarterfinal round action Thursday, March 14, 2013, at Madison Square Garden.

Jamie Dixon never promised to be Pitt's coach for life, the way Tom Izzo told Michigan State's Board of Trustees in June 2010 that he's “a Spartan for life.”

Dixon, however, did the next best thing when he signed a new 10-year contract in March that will keep him at Pitt through 2022-23. He's among a prominent collection of coaches who are identified by their longevity at one school.

Now in his 11th season as Pitt's coach, Dixon isn't going anywhere.

Other well-known coaches who have spent at least 10 years at one school: Syracuse's Jim Boeheim (35), Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (34), Izzo (19), Florida's Billy Donovan (18), Gonzaga's Mark Few (15), San Diego State's Steve Fisher (15), Louisville's Rick Pitino (13), Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (13), Villanova's Jay Wright (12), North Carolina's Roy Williams (11), Kansas' Bill Self (11), Baylor's Scott Drew (11) and Ohio State's Thad Matta (10).

Make no mistake: Dixon has had plenty of opportunities to leave. The vacancy at USC wasn't the first time Dixon could have departed Pitt, nor will it be his last.

The deal he signed in March was his fifth in 10 years, usually in response to his name being linked to another job.

The USC job now held by former Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield probably was Dixon's if he wanted it. Dixon's parents live in Los Angeles, and his wife attended USC.

If USC wasn't prestigious enough for Dixon, who has strong West Coast ties, it could have been him rather than Steve Alford who replaced Ben Howland at UCLA, although that might have been more than Dixon could stomach.

Howland hired Dixon at Northern Arizona, Dixon followed Howland to Pitt, and it was Dixon who replaced Howland when he departed for UCLA.

Expect to hear Dixon's name connected to more openings in the future.

He's a big-name coach with an excellent track record who coaches in the most prestigious conference in America.

Rowdy Rams seek old spark

Three years removed from a Final Four appearance, VCU still gets after teams with rowdy pressure defense.

The Rams lead the nation in steals, averaging nearly 13 per game. Not so normal is what's been occurring when the Rams don't steal the ball.

VCU's opponents are shooting 46 percent. That's second worst in the Atlantic 10, next to Duquesne.

An example of VCU's troubles was displayed in Saturday's 77-68 loss at Northern Iowa. The Rams forced 16 turnovers but didn't capitalize in transition and scored only two fastbreak points.

Combine that with the Rams shooting 36.9 percent against Northern Iowa, and you understand why they already have three losses.

VCU traditionally plays a competitive nonconference schedule, so a sluggish start shouldn't be cause for alarm. Last year, the Rams were 4-3 before reeling off 12 straight wins and finishing 27-9. Their season ended with a loss to Michigan in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

UNC sophomore ultimate team player

North Carolina sophomore Marcus Paige has done a lot in the absence of teammate P.J. Hairston.

As a freshman, Paige was asked to be a distributor at point guard. He did that, ranking third in the ACC in assists.

This year, with Hairston missing the first nine games while awaiting an NCAA decision regarding his eligibility, Paige has moved to shooting guard and become the Tar Heels' leading scorer.

Paige's new role was on display against Kentucky. Paige scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half of a 82-77 victory.

When and if Hairston returns to the lineup, Paige likely will resume his former role as a distributor. But he has evolved and adds another shooter to the lineup with the approach of conference play.

Upsets commonplace

Michigan State could have lost to Oakland but didn't. Notre Dame should have lost to North Dakota State and did.

Welcome to another wacky college basketball season where it's sometimes difficult to separate the haves from the have nots.

Notre Dame got back on the winning track following a 73-69 upset loss at home to North Dakota State in the Gotham Classic. The Irish upended Indiana, 79-72, a few days later.

Michigan State defeated Oakland, but barely, 67-63. It was a close game all the way, and it wasn't an accident. Just like Butler and VCU meeting in the 2010 Final Four wasn't an accident, neither was Witchita State making the Final Four in 2013.

Stay tuned.

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