PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Once again, the Panthers have to prove they can handle a potential NBA guard, and once again, they have to prove they can handle a zone defense. Which will be the more daunting task on Saturday night?
“I think they’re trying to find themselves depth-wise, which usually leads to being a man-to-man team, but they’re probably going to have to play some more zone. We’re well aware of their talents,” Dixon said of Detroit (2-3), which takes on Pitt (6-1) at the Petersen Events Center at 7:00.
The Titans are led by junior Ray McCallum, who earned Horizon League Tournament MVP honors as a sophomore and currently averages 20.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. Averaging over 74 points per game, Detroit, thanks largely to McCallum, is the highest-scoring team in the conference.
“He’s shooting the ball better…he likes pull-up jumpers in transition, and shoots deep threes. He’s got a lot more range than I remember in high school,” Dixon said. “He’s playing a lot of minutes. We’ve got to make him guard, and make it tough for him on both ends of the court.”
Defensively, Pitt is yielding just over 55 points per game, ranking 19th nationally, and as redshirt sophomore guard Cameron Wright pointed out, this team, in recent years, has had to defend plenty of players of McCallum’s caliber.
“The Big East is filled with remarkable guards, so when we get an opportunity to play against one, we feel it’s a great opportunity for everyone,” Wright said. “Coach Dixon and the entire staff stresses defense, so we’re going to approach this game as we would approach any other game.”
Wright spoke about the possibility of extra playing time for him Saturday, and, by that same token, the possible return of freshman forward Durand Johnson, who practiced this week after missing Tuesday’s win over Howard with a hamstring injury:
Another prime objective for the Panthers is getting back to their old, dominant selves under the glass. Pitt has been out-rebounded three games in a row, including its lone regular season loss to No. 3 Michigan.
“We have to crash the boards. That’s one of our biggest things,” said junior forward J.J. Moore, who averages 4.3 of those, along with 11.3 points, per game. Moore finished with six rebounds Tuesday to go with his nine points.
“We’re working on our transition defense as well. We’ve been getting killed in transition…and we’re looking to just play more defense,” he added.
In any event, the Panthers are still in position to post their seventh win in eight tries because, according to Moore, Dixon has rotated players intelligently:
Due to coverage of Pitt football, you can catch Saturday’s game on sister station NewsRadio 1020 KDKA.
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)