Pittsburgh Panthers Coach Jamie Dixon says getting the ball inside is key to get back to being a Big East contender.
“We really want to get the ball inside,” Dixon told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s something we’ve really emphasized this summer and fall. We have to be able to play out of inside touches, whether we’re scoring or kicking it back out. We want to go inside-out. It’s always been our strength.”
It certainly has always been Dixon’s strength with the Panthers. However, Pittsburgh hasn’t had a quality center to take charge on the inside since DeJuan Blair left for the NBA after his sophomore season.
Pittsburgh has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen twice and the Elite Eight once with Dixon as head coach. In each of those seasons, the Panthers were led by its center.
In Dixon’s first year with Pittsburgh they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2003-04 season. That year 6’10” 260lbs freshman Chris Taft was the force in the middle averaging 10.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 blocks. During the Panthers 2006-07 run to the Sweet Sixteen, 7’0” 270lbs senior Aaron Gray averaged 13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.7 blocks.
Dixon’s most successful season came with a run to the Elite Eight in 2008-09. Sophomore center Blair was relentless in the paint averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds.
The Panthers didn’t have a center like Blair, Gray or Taft last season and it showed. Pittsburgh went 22-17 overall and 5-13 in Big East action a year ago. Before last year, Dixon’s lowest win total was 25 and always had a winning record in conference play.
Dixon believes he’s found the next great Panthers center in freshman Steven Adams. Listed at 7’0” 250lbs, the New Zealand native has come out of nowhere the past year. He’s long, athletic and very physical. With NBA size, Adams is already a terrific rebounder at the early age of 19, which might explain why scouts have him as a potential top ten pick in next June’s draft.
There aren’t many players in the Big East that can handle Adams’ size, which makes him the perfect player to help Pittsburgh return to working everything from the inside out.
Dixon knows what the Panthers blueprint for success is in the Big East, and he’s getting back to it this season.