Originally written on Pitt Blather  |  Last updated 11/16/14
Morning Madness tomorrow. Local press conference/interviews yesterday. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Pitt plans to be more up-tempo on offense and try to score more in transition. “I definitely think we can do more in transition this year,” point guard James Robinson said. “We have a lot of great athletes on the team, a lot of guys who are interchangeable at times. But you look at Talib Zanna, he is one of, if not the, fastest player on the team. “I don’t know how many teams can say their big man is that fast, so with Talib’s ability to get out and run with our guys on the wing we should definitely be running the floor and out running the lanes.” Zanna added: “I think we are more athletic. People say we are small, but I don’t think that is going to be an issue because everybody is running up and down the court. Even when we play bigger, we can run and we have good point guards who push the ball and have good court vision.” Those sentiments were echoed by just about every player Thursday at Petersen Event Center, strange talk from a team that historically has been defensive minded. It’s not that I don’t believe them… It’s just that I’ve heard this song before. And I understand the players’ optimism. Heck, I even understand Coach Jamie Dixon being optimistic about playing faster. “Josh [Newkirk] brings a real extra higher gear to us offensively that we have never had,” said Dixon, who made it clear the core principles of defense and rebounding will still be the team’s foundation. “I think he is probably the quickest guy that we have ever had. It doesn’t mean he is the best guy we have ever had, but [speed] is a good thing to start with. “Talib is really going to be a factor and I anticipate him putting up good numbers for us at that position. We will have big wings, big guards; we will have good size and we will run a little better, and I think we will be a little more skilled on the floor. “The thing about being able to run is it isn’t about your guards usually, it is can your big men get down the floor ahead of things, and with Talib and some of the other guys we can do that.” Honestly, I can see Pitt doing more in transition and being able to play more uptempo in spurts. But it will require someone being able to step-up  as a shooting guard. “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.” In the offense, I think Patterson would be the best bet as the shooting guard. Patterson is a hard worker, and I like him, but he is not comfortable — or particularly good — when the pace picks up. He is much more deliberate and careful. That’s why I think he’d be better in the offense essentially as the shooting guard. His size would allow him to shoot over a lot of other guards. And he would get the time he needs to find a spot and be ready to shoot. I guess Pitt is making one big concession for the ACC. How much they are NOT bulking up. 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.” As for the incoming freshman class, it looks increasingly like Pitt won’t have Detrick Mostella. His academics are still not cleared, which leaves him in limbo at the moment. The other freshmen are all expected to play this year. “I think we really have guys who are seasoned and good, good players, and able to pick up things quickly. And talented at the same time,” Dixon said. “The three guys, the true freshmen, those guys have really played well, really picked things up.” … That leaves Artis, a 6-foot-7 Baltimore native whom Dixon compared to former Panther Nasir Robinson as the type of undersized forward the program has succeeded with in the past. “I think he’s really a great teammate. I think he really wants to please, wants to do what’s best for the team and wants to do the right things,” Dixon said, adding that Artis lost 18 pounds to hit the staff’s target weight for him of 225. While Young might be the most touted addition to the roster – the type of player who impresses with a combination of size and offensive ability – Dixon spoke highly of Artis’ skill set and natural talent, as well. Artis said those skills allow him to play just about any position, a sentiment echoed by multiple teammates, but primarily he envisions himself and Young subbing in and out for each other at the power forward spot. “I think you’re going to see two guys, Jamel and Mike, yes they’re freshmen but I think they have great instincts, they have great skills that we really haven’t had in a couple years at that position – ability to pass, ability to shoot, stretch the defense a little bit more,” Dixon said. “I think it’s going to be a nice addition to our team, especially on the offensive end. Defense, they have some work to do but that’s to be expected.” Defense is what made Robinson a staple in the backcourt early in his career, Dixon said. In Newkirk’s case, it’s a different trait that will make him hard to keep off the court despite his inexperience. “Josh brings a real extra, higher gear to us offensively, I think, that we’ve never had,” Dixon said of the 6-1 guard from Raleigh, N.C. “I think he’s probably the quickest guy that we’ve ever had. Doesn’t mean he’ll be the best guy we’ve ever had, but it’s a good thing to start with.” A lot of new pieces once more this year, and there wasn’t even much discussion of the transfer and JUCO to help in the front court. Or how it’s a make or break year for Durand Johnson. And plenty of other issues in question.
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