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Pittsburgh vs. NC State preview: Panthers bring Jamie Dixon's usual to town

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How and when to watch the game

Tip time: 12 p.m. ET

TV: ACC Network (check local listings)

Online streaming: ESPN3 (subject to blackout -- see map here)

Radio: Sirius 132, XM 194, Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Pitt vitals

Record: 10-3 (0-0)
Pomeroy ranking: No. 56
RPI: No. 65
Wins vs. Pomeroy top-100: 0
Best win: Kansas State (No. 105 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss: Hawaii (No. 148 in Pomeroy Ratings)

Adjusted tempo: 60.5 poss/40 minutes (ranks 344th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 107.8 (ranks 37th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 96.9 (ranks 98th)

Pittsburgh @ StatSheet
Pittsburgh roster
Pittsburgh schedule
Pittsburgh 2014 stats / 2015 stats

The Pittsburgh offense and starters

Pittsburgh Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 50.7 (117) 16.3 (55) 37.3 (21) 44.3 (69)
2014-15 50.2 (111) 17.5 (51) 37.6 (29) 35.1 (222)

Jamie Dixon deserves more credit for than he'll ever get--in his 11+ seasons, he's never had a Pitt team rank lower than 45th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That includes seven finishes in the top 20.

His teams are also generally slow-as-hell and halfcourt-oriented; they shoot better than average but not great and crash the offensive glass. They don't take a lot of threes. Free throw shooting typically isn't a strength. This is how a team gets the "blue collar" label, a tag both complimentary and dismissive at the same time, and how Dixon's work on the offensive side goes largely overlooked.

The Panthers' pace of play keeps scoring down, and they are not holy-cow-look-at-these-friggin-guys great at one thing in particular, but they also don't have glaring problems beyond maybe free throw shooting. It's the pace that can make Pitt's games look painful--the Panthers are 343rd in that category this season, with an average of about 61 possessions per 40 minutes. That's some glacial movin'. It is typical in the Dixon era.

Starters

James Robinson (6-3, 198) -- Robinson has been pretty good at distributing the ball throughout his career, he just hasn't been asked to be a main contributor to the scoring. That's changed a bit this season, as his scoring workload has increased significantly but remains below average (that is, he takes less than 20% of the team's shots while on the floor; he used to take much much less than 20%). Robinson is only a career 30.9% shooter from three and is 9-35 this year. His value is tied largely to how many times he can get to the free throw line, where he's a career 80.8% guy.

Cameron Wright (6-5, 205) -- After starting all 36 games for Pitt last season, Wright has already missed seven games because of a broken foot. The Panthers haven't lost since his return, but they haven't played anybody either. Wright provides some much needed depth and experience but I'm not sure his impact will be significant enough to level-up Pitt in conference play. His poor shooting both outside and at the free throw line limits his ceiling as a primary scorer.

Chris Jones (6-6, 213) -- He is Pitt's most-frequent three-point shooter with 45 attempts on the season, and he's hit 37.8% of those. He's relying more on his jump shot to score this year, which has led to a big drop in his free throw rate.

Jamel Artis (6-7, 220) -- Artis' two-point accuracy (43.7%) might be hurting, but he's 9-22 (40.9%) from three. This is a reversal from his freshman campaign last year, so I guess he's a decent scorer from both two and three? Sure, sounds good.

Michael Young (6-9, 235) -- Young is shooting about 55% from two this season, and in his brief career he is 76.8% free throw shooter. His free throw rate is up, his block rate is up, and he's rebounding has improved at both ends. But is this a true breakout year for the sophomore, or is it mainly a function of Pitt's shoddy schedule? The answer to that question could be a heavy factor in how Pitt fares in ACC games.

The Pittsburgh bench and defense

Reserves: Josh Newkirk (6-1, 185), Ryan Luther (6-9, 215), Sheldon Jeter (6-8, 225), Cameron Johnson (6-7, 185) Derrick Randall (6-9, 240).

Newkirk is Pitt's leading scorer off the bench with about eight per game, and he's posting nearly identical shooting stats to his freshman season: 48.1% from two, 42.3% from three. He is a bad free throw shooter, which makes his three-point accuracy a tad confusing.

After Newkirk, the Panthers' bench kinda falls off a cliff. They're 277th in bench minutes, and until the inexperience here comes into resolution, production off the bench is going to remain a question. Randall is one of the few with multiple years of eperience--he spent two years at Rutgers before transferring into Pitt before last season--but has never logged a lot of minutes.

Jeter is in his first year at Pitt after transferring from Vanderbilt, while Luther is a freshman. NC State might also see big man Joseph Uchebo, the one-time Wolfpack commit who has taken a long road to major college basketball. He went through a stint in junior college and a major knee injury before he ever got to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 46.7 (60) 19.2 (109) 29.1 (69) 36.4 (93)
2014-15 46.1 (96) 19.1 (221) 31.6 (190) 31.3 (74)

Interior defense was a strength for Pittsburgh in 2014, as the Panthers forced a lot of missed two-point shots and didn't give up many second-chance opportunities. There are cracks showing in that area this season, and that's one reason why they've dropped 70 spots in defensive efficiency.

The frightening sidenote to this for Pitt is opponents have collectively shot a putrid 27.5% from three-point range. That's going to start regressing back to the national average, and if Pitt's middling interior defense doesn't improve in the process? Trouble with a capital AW CRAP.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by two.