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Featured Fanpost: Pitt Basketball's Statistical Strengths Same as Always...with a Surprising Exception

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Through 15 games the Panthers have amassed some impressive stats that rank well nationally and compare well to Pitt teams of the past. They've also improved in an area of previous weakness.

Pitt fans have come to expect a certain type of basketball from Jamie Dixon's teams. They play good defense, they share and take care of the ball, and they win. While this is a simplistic look at things, it can't be denied. This year is no different in that regard but a new strength has emerged where the Panthers have struggled in the past.

More of the Same

This Pitt team is similar to many in the last decade in that they are one of the nation's best in many statistical categories (national ranking):

APG - 17.1 (10th), TO per game - 9.8 (15th), Assists/TO - 1.74 (4th), Points Allowed per game 58.9 (10th), AdjO - 115.2 (21st), AdjD - 91.3 (11th)

Most college basketball fans familiar with Ken Pomeroy and his ratings will recognize the last two listed. If you are late to the party you can familiarize yourself at kenpom.com. Among other things these ratings rely heavily on points scored and allowed per possession or offensive and defensive efficiency. Kenpom's formula loves Pitt and always has. Since the ratings' inception in 2002-2003 to last year, Pitt has finished the year ranked: 1, 4, 21, 11, 11, 24, 4, 25, 3, 68, and 11. Pitt is currently ranked 6th on kenpom.com.

Similarly Pitt is ranked 5th in ESPN's BPI, a similar metric, and 17th in RPI, an antiquated version but selection committee favorite.

These stats are certainly impressive but nothing new. Pitt's style of play and points of emphasis often lead to lofty national rankings in these statistical categories and metrics using efficiency statistics.

A Surprising Statistical Strength

So Pitt is still doing what Pitt does. The Panthers success in these familiar areas is very reassuring and may not come as much of a surprise. However, if there has been an area of significant frustration for Pitt fans during the last decade it has been their free throw shooting. As they say, "familiarity breeds contempt" and we've come to expect missed FT's and, if you are anything like me, a plethora of expletives directed at the TV and hyperbolic statements like, "I'm done with this team" and "they must never practice foul shots" and "I could hit at least 70%". I'm not, they do, and I couldn't. BUT WAIT! This year's team appears to be much improved over past teams in this regard. Everyone knows Pitt's 73.6% success rate at the line is closing in on a school record. It's also 4.8% better than last year's team, 3.6% better than Dixon's 2nd best FT shooting team and 6.2% better than their 10-year average. The % of Pitt's total points that come from the line is also up 3.2% from last season.

This is all good news but the most impressive stats regarding fouls are still to come. Pitt's fouls against per game are down nearly a full two fouls per game from last season (17.4 to 15.5). That 15.5 fouls per game is 9th in the nation, by the way. While two fouls may not seem like a big difference, consider the new hand-checking rules in play and the emphasis the NCAA has put on calling these fouls to increase overall scoring. Because Pitt has fouled significantly less AND has made their FT's at a better clip...PITT HAS OUTSCORED ITS OPPONENTS BY AN AVERAGE OF 6.1 (17.5 to 11.4) POINTS PER GAME FROM THE FREE THROW LINE.

Let that soak in because that is a very high number. I couldn't find anywhere that listed this as a stat, so I had to do some calculations myself. I'm glad I did. Pitt is #1 in the ACC by a pretty significant margin (Syracuse 4.9 and Duke 4.5 are closest). I think Jamie Dixon deserves a ton of credit in this regard. Even though Dixon has mixed in more zone than we've seen in quite some time (see: ever) Pitt has still largely played the aggressive man-to-man defense his teams are known for and are under control while doing it.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means Pitt is playing well and they've certainly earned that 14-1 record. You can expect many of these stats to move slightly in the wrong direction once we get into the thick of the conference schedule (as will everyone else's) but you have to like where they are right now. Pitt's doing what Pitt does...but now they are also doing what Pitt hasn't in the past: dominating the FT line. This will only serve to help them when their shooting is off as it was at Madison Square Garden against Cincinnati. Of course, the FT misses that stick out in everyone's mind are the two Patterson missed in that game with seconds to go. However, when you consider we were only in the game because of our FT shooting, the notion that Pitt's success at the line creates a significant advantage is still sound.

Stats provided by teamrankings.com and sports-reference.com.

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