When your point guard comes back from a long injury absence and helps the team put an end to an eight-game losing streak, as Tray Woodall has for Pitt, the natural assumption is that he made the offense jell.
And, indeed, that is true.
But what has been missed as an eight-game losing streak became a four-game winning streak has been the improvement in the defense. And much of that goes to Woodall, too.
The Panthers had averaged 59.8 points a game offensively in their first seven conference games, and that has grown by nearly 17 points a game with Woodall's return. Defensively, the four opponents have shot less than 42 percent, Villanova hitting only 35.9 percent.
"It's hand in hand," Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Our offense has helped our defense. We're making more shots. We're taking care of the ball more. I really thought our offense was the cause for our defensive deficiencies."
Why would such improvement on defense come with an improved performance by the offense?
Woodall explained it this way. Happy players are better defenders.
"The offense is a big part of us getting stops on defense," Woodall said. "Everybody is happy on the offensive end. They're not hanging their heads, not moping around. Everyone is hitting shots. Everyone is having fun.
"If you're having fun, you want to go out there and get stops. That's the fun part of basketball. Once you get a couple of baskets, you want to get some stops to get some more baskets."
The result is that the Panthers are playing as they were expected to and have put themselves in position to earn an NCAA bid if they can win out and have a strong performance in the Big East tournament.
--Jamie Dixon coached his 300th game at Pitt, against Villanova. He is 231-69, which is a .770 percentage. At the Petersen Events Center, he is an incredible 143-17 (.894).
--Why was PG Tray Woodall's return so important? Pitt is ranked 13th in turnover margin in the Big East.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The number of consecutive home games Pitt has won over Villanova after winning on Feb. 5.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're a bunch of fighters on this team, a bunch of winners, at that. We all come from winning programs. That's why Coach Dixon recruited us. We're not used to losing and we don't like it. We're always going to keep fighting." -- PG Tray Woodall, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on Pitt winning four in a row after an eight-game losing streak in his absence.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at South Florida, Feb.8
KEY MATCHUPS: A couple of rejuvenated teams go head to head, each inspired by its point guard. The Panthers have been reborn with Tray Woodall at the point while freshman PG Anthony Collins has moved right into the Big East like a veteran. Both teams are defensive minded; South Florida leads the league in that department and has proven to be very tough on the boards, too.
--at Seton Hall, Feb. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: Seton Hall got off to a fast start but has fallen on really hard times, losing its last five games. Points have been difficult to come by recently -- 49, 51 and 59 in the last three games. Herb Pope remains a force inside, averaging 16.1 points a game and 10.2 rebounds through Feb. 5. Pitt has gone in the opposite direction, winning four straight as PG Tray Woodall has the offense firing.
FUTURES MARKET: Pitt has learned where it will land in the ACC when it finally makes the move there, perhaps as early as next year. The Panthers will play Maryland twice a year and be their scheduling partner. Other partners will be Boston College and Syracuse, Clemson and Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina State, Florida State and Miami and Virginia and Virginia Tech.
--F Nasir Robinson was a remarkable 13 for 13 from the field in the two games before facing Villanova on Feb. 5. He was leading the Big East in field-goal percentage, but the undersized forward had the percentages catch up to him as he hit but 2 of 7 shots. Robinson has been averaging 15 points a game since Tray Woodall returned, five more than he did in the seven-plus games Woodall missed.
--PG Tray Woodall has hit 10 of 18 3-point shots since returning while averaging better than 12 points and seven assists a game (through Feb. 5).