Jamie Dixon has been coaching the past month like he has something to prove. Although, anyone that knows the game of basketball knows that Dixon has very little to prove. He has records and accolades that speaks for himself, but just when people start to question the guy or doubt him, he always seems to answer those questions in a big way. A Jamie Dixon coached team with lesser talent beating up on a ranked team like they did yesterday against North Carolina, well that's nothing new, but with this particular group - it's just a little bit more unbelievable than most years.
There is no secret that this Pitt basketball team is one of the worst teams the program has had in the past decade and a half, but don't tell these guys that. They are scrapping and clawing night in and night out, and as of February 15, 2015 - they still control their own destiny to make the NCAA Tournament. Pitt has transformed themselves from a team that looked destined for one of the basement spots in the ACC this season, to a team that is surging and coming together at the right time with wins in four of their past five games.
We hear so much about this Pitt program, and how it's run the same year after year, and the success and standards this program has set for itself are almost looked at as weaknesses and downfalls by some, but Dixon appears to be adapting in many ways with this 2015 team. He is adjusting on the fly and rather than make his guys adapt to him, he is adapting to them. Take for example, Pitt's usual methodical offense that is so regimented with passing on the perimeter and looking for the right shot, but yesterday we saw a team that was free flowing on offense, and one that was moving the ball and taking rhythm shots no matter how much time was on the shot clock. That has been trending since the loss to Clemson, as we are starting to see guys take shots with confidence rather than over passing the ball to death.
Another criticism has been that lack of a "go-to-guy" on the wing. Call me crazy, but not only have we seen one guy emerge to take on that role in Jamel Artis, but a second one has come on in the last week named Sheldon Jeter. The Panthers have the looks of two 6'8" forwards that can go out and create instant offense, and a good part of their emergence is the encouragement and emphasis by Dixon to take the open shots.
We can even go back and look at the insertion of Young at center, and going small and allowing more talent on the floor at once. Dixon rarely tinkers with his lineup or rotation past the first few games, and we are seeing new lineups and new ways to get different looks on the floor each game. In the same sense that these players are clawing their way into a tournament berth, Dixon himself is looking for ways to get this team an edge every day.
This particular team has given Jamie Dixon a new outlook in a lot of ways if you ask me, and it could be for the better for him and this program down the line. He had to find creative ways to make this group into a competitive team, and he has found ways to do that, whereas before he never did, and frankly never had to. Dixon's teams have always been equipped with the way he wants to play, but with some recent recruiting busts and injuries and suspensions - this team was not built in typical Pitt fashion.
At the end of the day, Pitt basketball is still about toughness, rebounding, and defense. Sheldon Jeter noted that after the Louisville loss, the team had two practices, and they were "short, but physical" practices. Dixon got into his team and questioned their toughness and manhood and scheduled those practices with a meaning and as he put it, "the message was sent." Those are old-school and classic Pitt basketball-isms, and that will always be a part of this team's identity, but for anyone that thinks Jamie Dixon is too stubborn to change his philosophies or his style, read this next statement: A Jamie Dixon coached team just ran circles around 12th ranked North Carolina and scored 89 points yesterday, and they did that without out-rebounding the Tar Heels, but did it by out-shooting them.
Pitt still has plenty of work to get into the tournament, but they are only in this position because a good coach like Jamie Dixon has willed them to this point. So yes, he can change, he can adapt, and man - he can flat out coach basketball.