Jan 6, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT
If you watched Cincinnati and Pittsburgh do battle in Madison Square Garden earlier this season like I did, you probably didn’t think very much of either team.
The Bearcats changed my thoughts on how good they are with their Saturday road win over Memphis in an AAC contest and, now, after watching Pittsburgh easily handle Maryland, I’m coming around more on the Panthers as well.
It’s not that defeating North Carolina State and Maryland by double digits to begin their tenure in the ACC was all that impressive, but Pitt has a lot of identity markers to like and they can win using a variety of different lineups. Many of those lineups and players were Pittsburgh’s key in a 79-59 win Monday night at home over Maryland.
When you start discussing the Panthers this season you have to start with fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson is one of the most underrated players in the country and the 6-foot-5 wing played a major factor in Pitt’s second-half dominance of Maryland on Monday night.
After getting burned a bit by the shooting of Evan Smotcyrz and his 3-for-3 shooting from the three-point line early in the game, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made the adjustment to go to a smaller lineup and feature the versatile Patterson at the four in the second half.
The Panthers took full advantage of their four-guard look and outscored Maryland 43-29 in the second half and Smotcyrz was held to 1-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc the rest of the game.
Patterson on offense, meanwhile, carved up the Maryland defense, scoring on floaters, mid-range pull-ups, drives and a three on his way to 19 points behind an efficient 8-of-12 night from the field.
While Patterson is the catalyst that drives Pittsburgh, the steady point guard play of sophomore point guard James Robinson is another major reason the Panthers are off to a 14-1 start.
Robinson just always seems to understand time and possession and never tries to do too much when running the Pitt offense. Robinson has turned the ball over only 12 times in 412 minutes of play this season while dishing out 62 assists; remarkable numbers for any point guard, let alone a true sophomore. Since committing two turnovers in Pitt’s season-opening win over Savannah State, Robinson doesn’t have a multi-turnover game since.
Then you have senior Talib Zanna manning the middle. The 6-foot-9 center isn’t flashy, but he defends his area, rebounds and can score on quick hitters around the hoop off of dump-offs from Pittsburgh’s guards.
When you add in the improved play of junior guard Cameron Wright, the scoring potential of Durand Johnson off the bench, as well as the interior contributions of freshmen Michael Young and Jamel Artis and this Pitt team is dangerous because their players all know their roles and play within themselves and the Panther offense.
Pittsburgh doesn’t take many bad shots and they limit turnovers. Jamie Dixon’s team isn’t one you would call “fun to watch” and their schedule hasn’t been particularly difficult during their 14-1 start, but this Panthers team plays together as a team and they have a chance to do some real damage in the ACC this season because they understand what works for them.
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