Jamie Dixon, deep into his fifth season at Pittsburgh (26-9), certainly should stand alone now. Sure, Ben Howland, his mentor, brought back the Panthers program. Dixon certainly maintained that high level from the outset, but this arguably has been his best season.
That's better than reaching 31 wins in his first season, 2003-04, and better than the Sweet Sixteen performance last spring. Pitt's 74-65 win against ninth-ranked Georgetown earned Dixon his first Big East title. Howland won one in 2002, but the Panthers didn't have to go through what this season's group has.
For the better part of two months while dealing with injuries, Dixon kept the team together though its common thread was hanging by one. And now that the Panthers are primarily healthy, Dixon has the group believing in itself and playing its best basketball heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Dixon continually repeats that with junior point guard Levance Fields finally able to practice on a full-time basis the last two weeks in the regular season, Pitt concentrated on the final four games to prepare for the Big East Tournament. The Panthers went 3-1 in those games and after four wins in four games at the Conference tourney, Pitt is playing as well as any team in the nation.
Just ask Dixon.
"I don't think anybody (in the country) spent the past week beating the teams that we beat (in the Big East Tournament), so I don't think anyone should be concerned about our confidence,'' Dixon said.
"To beat Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville and Georgetown, nobody up on that board (NCAA Tournament bracket) did that over the past four days. So, we're ready to play, and we're healthy for the first time all season.''
Certainly, Pitt's players deserve a great deal of credit for what the team accomplished -- down the stretch in the regular season and more importantly, at the Big East Tournament -- but Dixon is the unquestioned leader. He united the Panthers under difficult circumstances, after a three-game losing streak dropped them from the top-25 and onto the proverbial NCAA bubble.
Pitt could have fallen apart completely, but Dixon wouldn't let it. His in-game moves, often criticized, were for the most part tremendous. He out-coached Rick Pitino, Tom Crean and John Thompson III in a three-day span. That's quite an accomplishment. Pitino has a national title on his resume, while Thompson III was in the Final Four last spring. Crean got there before as well.
However, Dixon's name should be mentioned during any conversation about top basketball coaches in the NCAA. Howland is in that category as well, for getting Pitt its initial Big East title and two NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, as well as what he has accomplished at UCLA.
Dixon's accomplishments should not be overlooked, however, because he also has a Big East title and two Sweet Sixteen appearances on his resume with an even longer NCAA run certainly a possibility this year.
That certainly should set him apart from past Pitt coaches and make the "Dixon Era'' one that will be talked about for years to come.
Dixon Should Stand Alone
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