One thing that has plagued Pitt over the years--especially in NCAA crunch time--has been a hot perimeter shooter, in which Pitt inexplicably has no answer for on defense.
Somewhat by default, Pitt is getting an early test at what they would see in an NCAA Tournament situation. Last week, they got a good test in NBA prospect C.J. McCollum of Lehigh. Of course, both teams had to win their respective first-round matchups of this NIT Season Tip-Off event for the matchup to happen. Same thing in Michigan and Pitt facing each other Wednesday. McCollum was held to 17 points, yet still converted 3-of-4 three-pointers.
"We had great help defense," Pitt guard James Robinson said after the game.
Robinson has been praised multiple times by Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon for his defense. Rarely does Dixon praise any of players in this manner, let alone a freshman. While it was center Steve Adams who came with all the hype, Robinson--still a four-star recruit coming out of high school--seems to be making the bigger impact so far. Why? For the simple fact of Pitt not having the type of defender on the perimeter for players of McCollum's class--the type of player that has ended Pitt seasons in years past.
"I go through practice and schemes, jotting down mistakes and watching the film for things we need to improve on for each guy individually," Dixon said, talking about Robinson, "There's this little box and every time I look at it there’s James, and it’s empty. It’s just very few mental mistakes. There are just no mental mistakes and that’s so valuable. He understands where to be."
First McCollum, now Pitt must deal with the skillset of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Through three games, in helping Michigan to a perfect 3-0 record, the two players are a combined 15-of-27 (55.6%) from three-point range. Again, Robinson is just a freshman, but based on how he's adjusted to the college game this early, and what he's brought to the team defensively, the matchup between him and Burke is a reason enough to watch this game. Burke earned All-America honors last year as a freshman.
As for any scheme, or any matchup, players say it's not about an individual matchup. Going back to what they've said the last two games, it all goes back to simple help defense.
"We're just going to defend," Travon Woodall said. "We're a better defensive team this year. We just have to make sure we defend We're a defending team. We just have to make sure we help each other."
He might not tell us the exact scheme or gameplan, but Woodall hides no emotion when it comes to getting geared up for this type of matchup, in a place like Madison Square Garden.
"You have to love it," Woodall said, referring to the challenge of facing someone like Burke. "They're NBA players, definitely All-American caliber type of players. It's great to go play against guys like that. You get to see where you're at as a player."