Pittsburgh's non-conference schedule toughens up this week, as the Panthers head to Brooklyn for the Legends Classic.
Interestingly, Dixon and Smith have never coached against each other. Smith did coach against the Panthers in two of his previous stops--at Georgia, and Kentucky. Dixon says this Red Raider team has quickly accustomed to Smith's coaching style.
"They're playing hard-nose defense, they seem to be sharing the ball around sets into their offense," Dixon said. "I think he's going to do a great job. They have to rebuild, but I think he's doing a great job already."
Texas Tech: Robert Turner (12.8 ppg, 2.6 apg), Dusty Hannahs (11.4 ppg, 39.1 3-pt %), Jordan Tolbert (14.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Jaye Crockett (12.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Dejan Kravic (5.6 ppg, 1.6 bpg)
Pitt: James Robinson (7.3 ppg, 4.5 apg), Cameron Wright (8.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Lamar Patterson (13.8 ppg, 5.2 apg), Mike Young (7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Talib Zanna (15.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
Pitt is coming off a 77-58 win over Lehigh on Wednesday night. The Panthers are 4-0, averaging a margin of victory of +26.3 a game. Texas Tech, and whoever Pitt plays in the second game of this Legends Classic on Tuesday--either Stanford or Houston--will give this Pitt team its biggest test of the season.
"We're definitely looking forward to playing better competition, but we approach every game the same way," guard Cameron Wright said. "We still have a game plan. We prepare every day, on film, as if we were playing the best team ever."
One thing to look for, to see if Pitt can continue, is the type of shooting they've come out with in its last two games. Against Howard last Sunday, Pitt shot 81 percent from the field--a school-record for shooting percentage in one half. Against Lehigh on Wednesday, Pitt shot 56 percent.
Is there any secret to why this team is shooting the way they have been, so far?
"I think we've had situations where we've played well, yet they're hearing situations where they could play better," Dixon added. "Offense, I think we've gotten consistently better."
So far, though, Dixon has been getting better production from his returning players. Take Wright for example. Wright is averaging 3.5 points a game in his career. That's a 72-game stretch, with 15 career starts. In four starts this year, Wright is already averaging 8.8 points a game.
Making the jump to being a regular starter doesn't come with a shock value for Wright.
"It's us being used to each other," Wright said. "It's the intensity level. We come out really strong in the first half. We need to continue that in the second half."
Looking for that complete game is certainly something to strive for this early in the season. Playing tougher competition, starting with this week, should help. Pitt built a 47-23 lead over Lehigh at halftime. Pitt still won by 19, outscoring Pitt 35-30 in the second half.
"We got better in the second half in some areas, but it didn't show with what we were doing with some guys," Dixon said. "I take responsibility for that and I think I could have kept us more aggressive."
One area that has been a little more noticeable in the last two games, is Pitt's three-point shooting--not often a trademark of a Dixon-coached team. The Panthers shot 8-15 (53.3%) in the win over Howard, and 11-26 (42.3%) against Lehigh.
Subtract a 0-11 performances against Fresno State, Pitt has gone 26-56 (46.4%) in the other three games.
Durand Johnson has been a big part of that. He leads the team with nine three-pointers this season, including a 5-8 performance against Lehigh, setting a career-high for scoring and three-pointers.
"He has no conscience when he has that ball in his hands," Wright said, talking about Johnson's range. "When he gets that ball in his hands, no matter where he his, he thinks he's in range. When that ball goes up, I'm confident it's going in."
Dixon added that while Johnson's three-point shooting has been nice, he's quick to point out other areas he's able to help the team out.
"It's an ideal role for him," Dixon added. "We continue to stress the other things that he does, and not focus solely on him as a guy who can just take shots. He's doing a lot of other good things for us."
Talib Zanna is averaging 15.3 points a game in three games this season, including two double-doubles in three starts. That's nearly four points above Zanna's career average. Lamar Patterson is averaging 13.8 points and 5.5 assists per game--nearly twice what his career numbers are.
And, if you want another individual number, take James Robinson's 11-assist, no turnover night on Wednesday against Lehigh. That's as efficient as it gets.
The schedule toughening should be good for Pitt this week--not just to test this team to see what the can do against tougher competition. Also, to see if some of these individual and team efforts are going to become consistent as the season goes on.
Pitt is 4-0, which should be considered be a great start for anyone. Other ACC teams aren't as fortunate. Take N.C. State for example, 82-72 losers to North Carolina Central. Or maybe Belmont knocking off North Carolina last week, 83-80. November games aren't always predictable. Another reason why we might learn a little more about this Pitt team this week.
"It seems like we've had some losses, in the non-conference, which we've had before too, in the Big East," Dixon said. "It doesn't happen overnight."