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Elite offense spearheading Pittsburgh Panthers' bounce-back year

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How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 8 ET, Tuesday, Jan. 19

TV: ACC Network

Online streamingESPN3

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Pittsburgh vitals

Record: 15-2 (4-1)
RPI: 22
Pomeroy ranking: No. 29
Best win***: 86-82 over Notre Dame (KenPom No. 26)
Worst loss: 72-59 to Purdue (KenPom No. 12)

(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)

Adjusted tempo: 67.4 poss/40 minutes (ranks 275th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 118.8 (ranks 6th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 102.0 (ranks 156th)

Pitt roster
Pitt schedule
Pitt stats 2016

The Pittsburgh offense and starters

Pitt Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 49.1 (171) 15.7 (16) 34.3 (69) 34.8 (237)
2015-16 55.1 (20) 16.9 (81) 39.2 (9) 42.1 (63)

After a one-season hiatus from the NCAA tourney, it's lookin' like Jamie Dixon has a team that should have no touble making it into the Big Dance. The biggest general factor in Pittsburgh's revival has been its increased efficiency at the offensive end, led most obviously by a major increase in shooting accuracy.

The Panthers are shooting well all over the floor--they are ranked 36th in 2FG%, 30th in 3FG% and second in FT%. Those are significant improvements across the board for what was only an average shooting club in 2015. And that, along with more Dixon-esque production on the offensive glass, has vaulted this offense into the nation's elite.

Getting there is a simple formula, really. First, you return your most efficient and veteran players, including your top two scorers. Then you jettison a couple guys who were dragging your efficiency down. Add a couple of solid graduate transfers from the mid-major ranks for depth, and there you go, top-10 offense! Why don't all teams do this, I wonder.

The main two players to watch are Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who have improved their scoring and efficiency to spearhead the Panthers' overall improvement at this end of the floor. They're both making around 60% of their twos and hitting over 80% at the free throw line, and Artis is hitting 42.4% from outside. Pitt will get help elsewhere, but those two account for about half of the team's shots when they are on the floor together.


James Robinson (6-3, 198) -- His assist rate is a career-best 29.8%, while he's turning the ball over at a career-low rate as well. He has been an excellent free throw shooter throughout his career, but his shooting from the field tends to be iffy. This year he is making a career-best 36% from three.

Sterling Smith (6-4, 190) -- Spent the last three years at Coppin State, where he was an excellent scorer and excellent outside shooter. He is a career 49.5% shooter inside the arc, which ain't bad at all given his size, but he seems to be abandoning that shot at the power-conference level, as he's attempted only 21 (and made only five) this season. His outside shooting touch, however, remains a constant: he is at 49.1% in 2016. Great free throw shooter, too.

Jamel Artis (6-7, 215) -- Sixty-one-point-six percent from two, 42.4% from three, 81.8% at the line. He had a fine  season in 2015, but this is something else, and if he keeps it up, he'll have to be in the All-ACC discussion.

Michael Young (6-9, 235) -- Like his counterpart Artis, Young is having a career year, blossoming despite taking on a larger workload. He's making 59.4% of his twos and 86.1% (!) of his free throws. The latter statistic makes him especially lethal, because he's drawing 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes and averages about nine free throw attempts per 40 minutes played.

Rafael Maia (6-9, 245) -- The Brown transfer probably won't factor into the scoring too often, but his main purpose when he's on the floor is to vacuum up rebounds at both ends, which he does very well. In league play, nobody has been better on the defensive glass.

The Pittsburgh bench and defense

Reserves: Sheldon Jeter (6-8, 225), Chris Jones (6-6, 213), Cameron Johnson (6-7, 200), Damon Wilson (6-5, 200). Jeter is the leading scorer off the bench thanks to improved shooting in the paint and at the line. He's another dude shooting over 80% on free throws. Johnson is a freshman with no fear about shooting the ball, and in limited minutes he's been really good from outside. Jones and Wilson are also three-point threats, not to mention good free throw shooters.

Pitt Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 50.0 (216) 17.4 (271) 31.6 (204) 37.8 (202)
2015-16 46.5 (67) 16.2 (299) 27.8 (89) 30.3 (53)

In raw terms, Pittsburgh's defense is a lot better in several categories. But the opponent-adjusted numbers show skepticism since the Panthers have played against a rather weak set of offenses up to this point. In league play, Pitt is just eighth in defensive efficiency and ranks 13th in eFG% defense, which suggests the adjusted numbers are on to something.

The Panthers have plenty of wing/forward types to throw at opponents, just not a lot of the more traditional bigs, and that can leave them vulnerable depending on the matchup. That might not be too much of a problem against NC State--especially of the Panthers continue to rebound well at this end.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Pitt by 10.