Wednesday, February 9, 2011

PITT MEATGRINDER KEEPS ON GRINDING UP BIG EAST FOES

The Pitt Panthers had to struggle the other night against their arch-nemesis, the West Virginia Mountain Kin, but even without their leading scorer, three point maven Ashton Gibbs (46% for the season beyond the arc), the Panthers (now 22-2) were able to win in Motown, a difficult place to play indeed, by a 71-66 score. Gibbs, the team's leading scorer at 16.3 p.p.g. is suffering from a strained MCL. He says he's not in pain, but he feels as though his knee is going to buckle when he tries to cut.


ABOVE: Travon Woodall, Ashton Gibbs and Gary McGhee celebrate another Pitt victory.

Gibbs is expected to be out 1-2 weeks. Along with his amazing 3 point touch, he is also averaging 89% from the free throw line. This is a player, obviously, whom you want to have on the floor and healthy during the upcoming Big East and NCAA tournaments.

Gary McGhee was once again a force to be reckoned with and if I've ever seen a player who is the perfect example of what the University of Pittsburgh's "Jamie Dixon School of Basketball" can do for a young man's basketball career, he is it.


ABOVE: A chistled Gary McGhee brings a physical style of play in an early-season conquest over UConn.

When he first arrived on the scene, McGhee was a rumbling, stumbling, bumbling, fouling machine. It was amazing how he could come into a game and immediately start piling up fouls and creating turnovers. His clumsiness was astounding for a division one athlete.

Today, McGhee is one lean, mean rebounding machine and the clumsiness is gone. He's a terrific rebounder, makes great outlet passes, runs the floor well, plays agressive defense and even scores with respectable frequency (22 minutes p.g., 7.3 points and 8.2 rebounds). What school wouldn't want a player like Gary McGhee on their team?

In short, Pitt would definitely not be 22-2 and ranked #4 in the country without one Mr. Gary Magee. This leads to another obvious question: How does Dixon do it? He consistently takes less than stellar talents and molds them into some of the finest players in the country. The Dixon way is the unselfish way. Anyone wanting minutes on this team had better plan on playing suffocating defense as well as a team-first style of offense. His players also become physical specimens during what must be relentless practices (they're always closed to the public).


ABOVE: Pitt players Ashton Gibbs, Gary McGhee, Tyrell Biggs and Gilbert Brown chill out before a game.

Right now we are watching the gradual transformation of one of Dixon's most highly-touted recruits in recent years, Dante Taylor. Taylor came with all of the McDonald's accolades attached to him when he arrived at Pitt, but he quickly showed that raw talent or not, he was far from ready for the level of play that his teammates had already been exposed to at Pitt. While he is not as bad as Magee was during his first two seasons, he is still well below the game that Magee has honed for himself today. Taylor also seems to have a chippy attitude at times during games. An example of this came during the recent WVU game where he "accidentally" walked into referee Tim Higgins in a circumstance that easily could have and in reality should have been called a technical foul. I'm sure this attitude hasn't eluded the scrutiny of Jamie Dixon either. It's just another rough edge that Dixon will have to "sand off" Taylor's game. Such is the life of a successful college coach.

Meanwhile the Pitt basketball machine just keeps on grinding up opponents methodically. With a two game lead in the Big East and an upcoming game against Villanova, everything's looking rosy for the "Dixon Basketball School". Hopefully Ashton Gibbs will be back soon, but in his absence, Travon Woodall will be getting more minutes than usual, a reward for a great team player and #6 man. He deserves them and he's more than capable. That's the Jamie Dixon way.

UPCOMING PITT SCHEDULE

02/12/11 at Villanova Villanova, Pa./The Pavilion 9:00 p.m. ET
02/16/11 vs. South Florida Petersen Events Center 7:00 p.m. ET
02/19/11 at St. John's N.Y./Madison Square Garden 12:00 p.m. ET
02/24/11 vs. West Virginia Petersen Events Center 9:00 p.m. ET
02/27/11 at Louisville Louisville, Ky./KFC Yum! Center 2:00 p.m. ET
03/02/11 at South Florida Tampa, Fla./Sun Dome 9:00 p.m. ET
03/05/11 vs. Villanova Petersen Events Center 4:00 p.m. ET