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Jamie Dixon’s gone, but Pittsburgh can still torch Syracuse’s zone

Pitt’s three-headed monster is back against the zone in the Dome tomorrow.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse
Former Pittsburgh head coach Jame Dixon calls out to his team during the first half of a game against the Syracuse Orange last season. The Panthers won, 66-52.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jamie Dixon was known for one thing in Central New York: Syracuse/Jim Boeheim killer.

He owns Boeheim, and when he was at Pittsburgh, the Panthers torched SU’s 2-3 zone better than anyone in the country.

In his 13 seasons with Pitt, Dixon went 15-7 against Syracuse, including three victories last season which included a first-round ACC Tournament matchup in Washington.

Dixon left Pittsburgh this offseason for a job at TCU — fortunately for SU fans. Kevin Stallings took over and has the Panthers out to a 12-3 (1-1) record this season. They’re coming off an overtime victory over No. 11 Virginia on Wednesday.

UVA plays straight up, suffocating man-to-man defense — and the Panthers put up 88 points. The Cavaliers, on average, give up 51.4 points per game — which ranks No. 1 in college basketball.

As for Pittsburgh’s offense, the Panthers have the top two scorers in the ACC — Michael Young and Jamel Artis, who average 22.7 and 21.4 points per game, respectively.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh forward Sheldon Jeter shoots a 3-pointer against Virginia during the second half of Wednesday’s game. The Panthers won in overtime, 88-76.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Artis, a 6-foot-7 forward, has been a zone killer over the years. He can play in the high post, catch and shoot, or can play on the baseline with backdoor cuts for easy layups. Oh, and he also shoots over 45 percent from 3-point range.

Young, a 6-foot-9 forward, can do virtually the same. He shoots over 42 percent from 3-point range, and is the leader of the Panthers offensively.

Over the years, Pittsburgh has had the makeup of a perfect roster to attack the 2-3 zone: Size, depth, shooters and bigs that can hit from mid-range. This team is no different.

The Panthers have six players shooting over 34.5 percent from deep, including four shooting over 40 percent. At the rate SU has given up open looks from behind-the-arc, that could become troublesome rather quickly.

Pitt’s core — Artis, Young and Jeter — all returned this season. They’ve had arguably a better stretch against Syracuse, especially at the Dome, than anyone in recent memory. Whether it’s the high-low game or the high post which forces SU to bunch together and leave shooters open — they just get it. And they do it better than anyone.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Panthers forwards James Artis and Sheldon Jeter celebrate after making a 3-pointer against Virginia in overtime on Wednesday.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Credit Dixon, because it all started with him. It’ll be interesting to see how Pitt does attack the zone. They have the personnel, but will Stallings tweak anything from last year’s game plan? SU’s zone isn’t nearly as good as last season’s with Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney up top, which should scare some Orange fans heading into Saturday’s matchup.