Transition Defense The Focus

Pitt's contest against UMBC tonight is the first of two games before opening Big East play against UConn on December 27.

When solving the woes of its transition defense, Jamie Dixon put in some basic terms.

One of the benefits of playing tougher competition in the middle of December, is the joy of exposing some weaknesses that might not show up against other non-conference foes.

One of those things that Tennessee exposed was a transition game. It was a combination of how well the Volunteers pushed the transition game, combined with how poorly Pitt defended it. The Panthers didn't help themselves much by shooting just 40.7% to the Volunteers 56.3%.

The Panthers were edged 34-32 in rebounds, the first time they were outrebounded in a game this season. Entering the game, Pitt was a +16.7. Though it was only a -2 for the game, Pitt was a -18 below their rebounding edge. That also contributed to their transition woes. Offensive rebounds were taken for granted, but forwards like Talib Zanna says preventing transition defense is not about crashing the boards more.

"It's kind of not crashing the boards," Zanna said. "Once (the opponent) gets a rebound, we all try to ride the ball instead of going back (on defense). Once the ball goes up, we just get it, go back."

Despite the poor shooting, the lack of presence on the glass, Pitt took the most pride in its transition defense, something the players and coaches felt was the most important thing. This week, it's been back to the basics on the transition end.

"Once the shot goes, some people just try to stay and ride on the ball instead of going back and playing defense," Zanna said. "Once the shot goes up, we all get back--all five people get back--instead of staying there and trying to get a steal."

Guard Travon Woodall also feels the communication has to improve overall, transition or not. That‘s something he places on his shoulders.

"If you communicate better, it makes it a lot easier," Woodall said. "For most guys like myself, Dante (Taylor) and Nas(ir Robinson), we're always out there talking. We just can't shut up. We just have to be the guys out there communicating, and telling people where to go."

As Zanna and Woodall have stated--it's a simple change in philosophy, and just a simple adjustment of communicating more. To put it all together, Jamie Dixon gave the players very simple terminology, easy for any player to relate to, as he tries to fix the transition defense.

Zanna alluded to it earlier, saying the focus has to be less on going after the guy with the ball and more about just getting back on defense. Dixon put it in different terms.

"Coach Dixon calls it ‘Ratting,'" Woodall said.


"If the (opponent) has the rebound already, the ball is the cheese," Woodall explained. "Guys (rats) are just sticking around to try to get the cheese, and you're not going to get it. If the other team has the rebound, we need to get back on defense; don't hang around. The other team is not going to pass us the ball. We need to get back on defense; chase and recover.

"If one guy rats, or two guys rat, the offensive players are going to sprint to get down the court to try to get a layup. Guys run harder on defense than they do on offense. We just have to make sure we run back."

At the very least, a week between games, and a much tougher opponent in Tennessee has given the Panthers an opportunity to spend a large chunk of team, focusing on area like this, as there are only two games and nine days before the Big East season begins.

"Once we lost to Tennessee, it was kind of frustrating," Zanna said. "We just have to be ready. Whoever we're playing, we have to come out ready to go."

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