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Harris: Dixon makes Pitt consistent winner

| Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

It's two years later.

Granted, this isn't the Pitt of DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, but it's still the Panthers of coach Jamie Dixon.

No question, Pitt remains a winning machine 23 days from the opening of the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers are ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press Top 25 and have the look of a No. 1 seed for the second time in three seasons. Statistically, the Panthers are in elite company.

You can't compare this Pitt squad to the one that fell one game short of the Final Four. That team -- led by Blair and Young -- should have won the national title.

That team also expanded the expectation level for all future Pitt teams.

The more Pitt wins, the higher the stakes.

Being good in the regular season is no longer good enough. And no one remembers how many consecutive home nonconference games you win if you're not playing during the first week in April. It's the curse of being regarded among the top college basketball programs in America.

Only a handful of programs can make that claim, Pitt among them.

So, what makes Pitt basketball so good• Do the players make the program, or does the program make the players?

Every year, you can look at Dixon's team and ask the same question: Will one of his players go in the first round of the NBA Draft• The answer is usually, no.

But when Dixon works with his kids and gets them to play his way, it creates chemistry. It gives the Panthers a chance to battle for a national title with schools such as Duke, Kansas and Ohio State.

Who thought senior center Gary McGhee would develop into a player who would be named to the Big East Honor Roll for his strong play last month• Me neither. McGhee's learning curve has been one of the amazing stories in college basketball.

McGhee is proof you don't need great talent to fit Dixon's system. All you need is great commitment.

That could explain Dixon's ability to win big every year by replenishing his roster with talented players who buy into the team concept. You won't find any one-and-done players on this year's team.

When you look at Pitt, you see a team built to win the Big East: physical defense, physical rebounding, methodical offense.

At times, junior guard Ashton Gibbs does on the court what Dixon does on the sideline.

Trust is an important part of the synergy between Dixon and his players. Dixon trusts Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer, to take big shots and play heroically.

That's a big concession for Dixon, who puts his players in position to make plays and win games.

College basketball coaches rarely give up control to their players. Those that earn their coach's trust are special.

Special players like Gibbs, Blair and Young have helped Dixon become one of the elite coaches in college basketball. His teams have played in the NCAA Tournament every year. He's consistent and successful.

And if things fall into place for this year's Pitt team, there's no telling how far it will go.

Dixon is the only coach among the likely top four NCAA Tournament seeds who hasn't led a team to a Final Four. He's the latest best basketball coach never to win it all.

But he's certainly in position to get finally reach that goal.

Thanks to Dixon, Pitt is always a threat.

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