The Key to Pitt's Success

Arthur GrazianiContributor IJanuary 6, 2009

Over the last eight years the University of Pittsburgh has built a great basketball program. The winning has been consistent and tops in the Big East.

The off the court efforts by the administration to elevate this program to elite status, i.e. new practice facilities and a beautiful new arena, has paid immediate dividends. On the court, there is one key to Pitt's success the Open Shot.

The winning philosophy that Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon brought to this team is a simple one. On defense, do your best to prevent an open shot. On offense do your best to get an open shot. Of course every team wants to follow this mantra, but Pitt's dedication to it is second to none. And now so is their ranking.

Defensively, Pitt employs mainly a man-to-man defense. This man-to-man is in your face, with constant bumping, checking and hedging of all screens and cuts. And even when they switch to zone the pressure is still there. Hard nosed and gritty, the team puts effort and execution on each and every possession.

There are just no easy shots against this team. And good rebounding position is a fundamental by-product of this defense.The coaches put the most priority on defense. As with all sports, you win with defense. From year one, the Howland-Dixon era has hung its hat on its defense.

When Pitt is on offense, again the open shot is key. Pitt runs a sets offense, which is a structured offense with swings and extra passes to ensure an open shot. Whether feeding the inside post, running a wing dribble drive, or a high ball screen, Pitt preaches unselfishness, to get the open shot. If an open shot exists, take it. The opposing team tends to react to the shooter. And then Pitt can create offensive rebound opportunities.

There are obvious advantages to the coaching style for Pitt. As alluded to earlier, both on offense and on defense, rebounding becomes much more problematic. Pitt has had consistently high rebounding margins during this era. Also recruiting is easier. The style does not require top talent, but rather a dedication to team.

This type of player, though not as skilled, usually has a greater basketball IQ and a greater will to win. And it is a player you can count on for four years.

Now some will argue that Pitt has yet to take "then next step." And that is hard to argue. But a consistent winner, that challenges for conference championships, and makes yearly trips to the NCAA's is pretty darn good. And it only takes one or two plays by one or two players, maybe a Sam Young or a Dejuan Blair, and who knows...maybe A FINAL FOUR!