Pitt continues its non-conference portion of the schedule with a 5 pm tip against Howard this Sunday.
Pitt is 2-0 following a 75-54 win over Fresno State on Tuesday. The talk is still centered on Pitt's success with the zone.
Howard: Ausar Madison (4.3 ppg, 4.1 apg), James Daniel (23.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Prince Okoroh (12.3 ppg, 3.3 spg), Solomon Mangham (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Oliver Ellison (2.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Head coach Jamie Dixon stressed the importance of going back to man-to-man defense at some point. Nevertheless, he spent the early portion of Howard preparations going back over film of the Fresno State game.
"A lot of good things," Dixon said. "A lot of positive things, and reinforcement."
A 48-25 edge in rebounding was one of those positives, which included a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) from Talib Zanna and another six boards from Derrick Randall. In the first half, Pitt gained 17 defensive rebounds, while Fresno State was held without one single offensive board.
While this is a good sign, it's not completely what Dixon hopes for by going to zone. Yes, how could he not be pleased with a +23 rebounding margin for the game. But, it's still hard to judge this game and how successful Pitt's rebounding game is going to turn out this year.
"I felt with a zone we would not get hurt with them because of the rebounds," Dixon said. "There's give and take with everything you do. I've always talked about zone being a problem with what you do on the offensive glass. It's something we're working on."
Dixon pointed to Fresno State using four guards. He did say that it's his personnel--specifically guards he feel can rebound--is one part of this year's team that could show an edge in the rebounding department.
"We have guards that rebound well, some good-sized guards," Dixon said. "It fits us a little better in that regard. We're still pretty aggressive with it. We got a lot of turnovers with it."
The rebounding is certainly off to a good start through two games, in addition to newcomers Mike Young, Derrick Randall and Jamel Artis contributing quality minutes. However, Dixon cautions to not expect zone defense from his team every time.
"We've got to get better in our man-to-man defense," Dixon said. "That's our bread and butter, and we've got improvements to make, but I anticipate that."
Consider this. There are five players in the rotations that are seeing the first action of their careers. Derrick Randall, Mike Young, Jamel Artis, Josh Newkirk and Chris Jones. In two games, all of them have averaged at least 10 minutes a game. Randall leads the way with 16 minutes per game.
The biggest thing for all these newcomers, even though Dixon seems comfortable using all of them, and the fact they've blended in with the verterans pretty well, is adjusting to a defense-first mentality. Not that they can't play defense. Sometimes, it's a little tougher knowing that in order to continually get those minutes, they have to show it first on defense.
Newkirk scored 11 points in the opener against Savannah State. Against Fresno State, he was held scoreless, but his focus shifted to the defensive side.
"Just knowing your roles, knowing your principles on defense," Newkirk said. "You have to be in help. There's no set rotation. You just have to learn."
As this non-conference portion of the schedule continues, a couple things to look for would be if these freshmen continue to get the type of minutes they've been getting. Another will be to see if and when Dixon goes back to the zone defense. Obviously, he stated he'd like the team to plan man defense--what he calls the program's bread and butter. How much will he toggle back and forth, and when?
Dixon knows there has to be improvement through the season but he does home pleased with how the group of younger players has contributed so far.
"They're getting better, they're great kids, they're hard workers," Dixon said. "No question. I'm excited about them."