There's something to be said for consistency. Perhaps more than anything else, that's what Pittsburgh Panthers junior point guard James Robinson is best known for in some fashion or another. He consistently doesn't turn the ball over, he consistently plays hard on the defensive end, he consistently doesn't connect from beyond the arc.
So, given that Robinson is mostly a known quantity who has started every game but one in his collegiate career, why is there more speculation about his spot in the starting lineup than any of the other incumbents? You have to credit the talent of sophomore point guard Josh Newkirk for driving that conversation. Newkirk is quickness personified and his style of play is aesthetically pleasing. That's not to say that Newkirk's play hasn't warranted the speculation. But in many ways the point guard 'battle' can also be summed up as Big East vs. ACC - old school vs. new school.
As the season approaches, my guess is that there will be a lot of articles written about why Newkirk should start. This isn't one of them. That's not to say he doesn't deserve a chance if he plays exceptionally well over the next few months. I am merely making a case for Robinson, because with the graduation of forwards Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, Pitt can certainly use a little consistency.
Let me put this out there, senior guard Cameron Wright and sophomore forward Michael Young are going to have to shoulder a bulk of the scoring load left behind by Zanna and Patterson. If those two don't rise to the occasion, the Panthers are going to struggle.
If all Robinson does is produce along the same lines as he did last season, Pitt isn't going to be hampered offensively. Sure, it would be nice if he can reach double-digits in the points column every game, but a slight increase in intelligent aggressiveness can easily add another basket or two per game. Let's not forget that Robinson took slightly less than six attempts per contest; it's hard to score a lot of points if you only shoot the ball six times.
What the Panthers really need from Robinson is his steady play as a natural lead guard. His 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was tied for 5th in D-I last season, and the best in the ACC. Coaches love players who take care of the basketball, and Dixon is no exception. Sure, Robinson doesn't snap ankles and force the defense to collapse off penetration on a lot of possessions, but he makes all the right passes. Spend 10 minutes at a youth practice and count how many times a coach will tell his young players to use a bounce pass in certain situations. It sounds rudimentary, but Robinson just knows how to get players the ball and in scoring position.
Robinson is also a better finisher at the rim, better on this two-point jumpers, and converts at a better rate than Newkirk at the free throw line. There are a lot of people who champion the 'small sample size' argument when it comes to analyzing Newkirk's stats, but that works both ways. Newkirk struggled at the charity stripe, connecting on just 44.7% in 38 total attempts. Well, he connected at an impressive 43.4% from three-point distance, but on only 53 attempts. Let's not forget that while a majority of Robinson's production is directly tied to playing against an opposing teams starting unit, Newkirk's isn't.
Up to this point, everything I've outlined is strictly related to the offensive end of the floor. If I switched over to talking about defense, it would be extremely hard for someone to make the case that Newkirk should start over Robinson.
Look, I really like both of these players, and I am sure Dixon is more than happy to mull over a difficult lineup decision like this. Newkirk is going to start at some point in his career, as I am fully confident he'll harness his vast potential sooner rather than later. With that said, Pitt is entering this season with a lot of questions, and Dixon should find comfort in knowing the play he'll get from Robinson isn't one of them.