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November 27, 2013

Pitt is rolling through the early schedule

Pitt came to Brooklyn, saw Brooklyn, and conquered Brooklyn.

Now, at least for a day, the Panthers can sleep secure in the feeling that they continue to improve even as their competition becomes better.

88-67 was the final over a Stanford team that has an awful lot of individual talent. Pitt beat Stanford for something called the Progressive Legends Classic title. The atmosphere at Barclays Center - do yourself a favor and watch the documentary Battle for Brooklyn for an in depth look at the whole process behind getting the arena built - was probably equal to that of a Nets game.

The only difference was the "home" team - at least in terms of being closest to Brooklyn - last night played with sublime skill, incredible pace and a pack mentality that would make Cesar Millan smile.

There's going to be a ton of talk about Pitt's schedule in the next few weeks. The talk will be mostly correct but will miss the entire point of the schedule: Jamie Dixon always believes in his players more than others do, which is the way it should be. Only this time, with this team, he may be more right than he's ever been.

Lamar Patterson needed to know how it felt to be an Alpha Dawg. Cam Wright needed to find his role as a glue guy who pushes, passes, rebounds and scores as needed. Talib Zanna and James Robinson just needed to continue to be steady and get more wins under their belt. Durand Johnson had to feel that letting his inner World B. Free loose was good for the team, provided he was at least interested in defending and rebounding.

And all the above-mentioned guys had to show Jamel Artis, Josh Newkirk, Derrick Randall and Mike Young that this is how Pitt plays. Artis had 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 15 minutes last night against Stanford... in a championship game.

The fact that he felt comfortable enough to bang in a three-pointer last night in his sixth game as a college player on an NBA court is huge. The fact that Dixon was okay with it shows he has a really, really good feeling about this team's potential. Josh Newkirk was fine as well; he didn't hesitate to take shots and will hit them in the future - but he got his team into the offense and did his job when in the game.

The competition Stanford presented was that of a mid-level ACC team with size, an NBA pro, and two high level Euro guys in the lineup. It was by far the best team Pitt has faced. And the pundits will be screaming about that in regards to rankings and such.

Let them scream.

Whenever the competition gets suitable, Pitt will meet it with a confident, skilled and fast-playing team - with players who completely understand their roles.

Believe me, behind that perpetually-constipated look he wears throughout each game, Jamie Dixon is smiling.

He knows that for this team, this plan he put in place, this blueprint, is the right one.

He also knows they have a chance to be very good...but they need some seasoning, some time and some confidence.

This schedule has provided all those things.

And that's what matters.





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