The Pittsburgh Panthers have just finished off their non-conference schedule in their first year of being a part of the new-look ACC. The Panthers have definitely displayed the same rough-and-tough style coach Jamie Dixon loves to coach. The Panthers have also shown they have the skill players to also play a more finesse-style game that may be needed when the faster teams in the ACC need to be kept up with.
Pittsburgh has one of the best all-around players in the country with senior forward Lamar Patterson leading the squad in scoring (16.8 PPG) and assists (4.5). If Dixon could mold a player out of clay and have that player do exactly what he wants on the court at all times, it would be Patterson. Sometimes it is frustrating watching Patterson because it looks like he could completely take over the game with his athleticism and high basketball IQ. However, Patterson is so in with Dixon’s coaching style that he does not sway much from the game plan and — more often than not — it does benefit the team.
Along with Patterson, senior forward Talib Zanna looks to be the player Pitt fans have wanted to see all along. Zanna is a wonderful talent on both ends of the court and has wherewithal to know what he can and cannot do at all times. Zanna is second on the team in scoring (11.8 PPG) and leads the Panthers in rebounding (7.5 RPG). He generally plays in complete control and is no longer out of place on offense. If Zanna can continue to be a force inside, he can definitely keep Pitt in any game against any team in the conference.
Pittsburgh also is a team that has shown it can score and play defense at a very high level. At the beginning of the season, Pitt was handling opponents by more than 20 points per game. Although the schedule weighed on the soft side, it was a good sign that the Panthers could put up numbers when they should have.
Pitt’s lone stumble this season was also easily the worst game the team played all season against Cincinnati. Pittsburgh was anemic on offense. The Panthers had two scoring droughts that nearly equaled an entire half and finished with only 43 points on 31.4 percent shooting. Those numbers are certainly nothing to smile about, but on the positive side, the Panthers only gave up 44 points and held the Bearcats to 37.7 percent shooting. Pittsburgh could have fallen out of the game early but held on and nearly picked up a win it did not deserve.
Pittsburgh, like most teams, has its positives and negatives to work around. However, if the Panthers can play their high-level defense and stay consistent on offense, they will be a a real threat in the ACC.