The strength of numbers and data is they can address ideas or thoughts about certain subjects without thoughts of their own. I've always loved using numbers to show something that people may not have otherwise thought about. Last year, we showed Pitt football's recruiting class was better than its ranking, and this football season we showed how Tino Sunseri was a better quarterback than Christian Hackenberg. This time, we'll turn to the basketball side of things. My good friend Mike Franklin, who you might know as mjf313 on Pantherlair or @mfranklin313, did a rundown of Pitt basketball's offenses and defenses under Dixon and I asked him to share it on here. Take it away, Mike!
Pitt basketball has been playing extremely well this year, currently off to a 14-1 start on the back of their exciting "new" offense. Among a group of friends, I am typically the one to be chugging the kool aid and defend Jamie Dixon's coaching. I sent out some stats in an email group I’m in regarding their offensive performance this year, and got the following response: "Damn, I never thought of us as a good offensive team. I would guess 85 points-per-game is at least 10 higher than our average over the last like ten years." While this was true, points scored isn’t a very good indicator of a "good" offensive team. The thought has always been "Pitt is a good team. They just beat you up, play defense and can't score to save their life". That thought is something that I have always disagreed with. To show that, I used the offensive [and defensive] efficiency of KenPom’s adjusted ratings. They can be found here. To pull directly from the site, the short explanation is…
AdjO - Adjusted offensive efficiency - An estimate of the offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) a team would have against the average D-I defense
AdjD - Adjusted defensive efficiency - An estimate of the defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) a team would have against the average D-I offense.
The formula takes into account possessions and adjusts for competition so a boring, slow, exacting offense won’t be penalized - The type of offense that Pitt has been known for. I wanted to show that while Pitt may not have been an exciting team using points per game, they have always been an efficient [and good] offensive team. See below for a year-by-year look at Dixon and his Pitt teams.
Sure, these metrics aren’t don’t tell the whole story but, using KenPom's rankings, Pitt has always been a good offensive team with Dixon. The first thing you see after looking at all of this is Dixon is a better offensive coach than a defensive coach.
Diving deeper into the stats, Pitt is ranked in the top 20 over Dixon's entire tenure. Pitt has fallen out of the top 30 only twice, and fell out of the top 31 ONCE in 2010 with a ranking of 45. Pitt is, and has always been, a good offensive team. Pitt may not be the most exciting, but they have been very efficient. What Pitt historically has not been is an exciting or pretty offense. While effective, they haven’t been the most aesthetically pleasing team scoring the ball.
To demonstrate the disconnect between exciting [points per game] and efficient [AdjO] I simply compared the two. Pitt has historically been ranked very low in points per game, roughly 105th in the nation over Jamie Dixon’s tenure with this year being the highest ranking at 10th and 2010 being the lowest at 193rd. The bigger the difference between those ranks, the more of a disconnect between exciting basketball and efficient basketball. I’m not going to bother making up a name for this simple metric but you can see there is a very large difference. On average, the efficiency rank of the offense outpaces the points per game rank by 88 spots. That is huge.
In the past, Pitt would just beat the living crap out of you on offense and defense, not score a ton of points, but be very efficient in doing so. This year our offense appears to be different and, as such, more exciting. It’s not the typical "pass the ball around the perimeter, waste time, pick your spots and get a good shot". People are shooting, cutting, driving, dishing. It’s exciting! Jamel Artis is whipping the ball around with great passes, James Robinson is having games where you look up and all of a sudden "wow, he's got 14 points" and Michael Young is dominating all over the floor. Hell, Rafael Maia even had seven points against Georgia Tech.
All of this information dispels the notion that Pitt’s defense has always been better than the offense. Pitt’s defense, what people always stereotype them with ["Big East style basketball. Great physical defense!"]… well, it hasn’t been good. Frankly, it has fallen off a cliff lately. I don’t know why but I’ve got some ideas. It could be because of not having a back-up plan for Steven Adams declaring for the NBA draft, recruiting misses, having to slap the team together with less than ideal parts because of those recruiting misses, very high attrition rate and lack of continuity, assistant coaches leaving, etc etc. Either way, I am not totally sure, but, for the most part, Pitt has not been that great of a defensive team. It looks like the defensive stereotypes of Dixon's first 2 seasons [and Howland's] have carried over and just keep sticking.
You can see there was a drop off in defense as Pitt joined the ACC so that could be a factor. Same rough level of competition as the Big East and ACC traded the title of "Toughest Conference" back and forth over the years. My personal hypothesis is a combination of lack of back up plans for Steven Adams and Dixon trying to change his philosophy a bit. Simply put, Dixon got into recruiting battles he couldn’t win. Big names that were recruited by blue bloods. He missed on a lot of high school recruits and transfers. That has possibly affected his team.
Recently, he has seemed to shift his focus back to the type of kid that he made his name with. The 4* kid ranked in the top 100-200 with solid offers like Corey Manigault or Justice Kitchart. Dixon is bringing guys that he can work with and develop… what he has always done. He’s not shooting for [and missing] with guys like Cheick Diallo, Mustapha Heron, Maverick Rowan, Caleb Swanigan. You get the point. Even Pitt's big three so to speak this year of James Robinson, Mike Young, and Jamel Artis are all more of the traditional Dixon recruit. Guys that were very solid out of high school, but not guys the blue bloods were going for. I think he is getting back to his style so hopefully the defense can tighten up a bit and Pitt can get back to being "solid". Recent rule changes can skew these numbers a bit. Across college basketball, officials are calling more ticky tacky fouls. Trust me, it happened the past few games against Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Because of these new rules, it makes it easier to score and harder to play defense. So Pitt’s brand of defense, while it was once effective, has taken a nose-dive. There's a learning curve and it will hurt teams that are historically physical. As JD told me, #teamhedge. Something to consider.
TL;DR – Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers have been better offensively and worse defensively than you may think.
To think otherwise is to hold to thoughts from 2003 and 2004. You wouldn’t want to do that would you?