Pitt coach Dixon says finding right balance for schedule no easy task
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon displays a certain look whenever he’s asked about the Panthers’ nonconference schedule.
It’s a look of “here we go again.” But it’s a look shared by other ACC coaches attempting to balance playing in arguably the most competitive league in college basketball against playing a nonconference schedule that’s competitive yet not overly so.
On Friday night, for instance, Pitt (2-0) visits Hawaii (20-11, 9-7 Big West last year) before facing Division II Chaminade three days later, followed by potential high-profile opponents San Diego State, BYU, Arizona, Kansas State, Missouri and Purdue in the Maui Invitational.
A year ago, Arizona advanced to the Elite Eight, San Diego State went to the Sweet 16 and Kansas State and BYU were NCAA Tournament at-large teams.
The remainder of Pitt’s nonconference schedule features a visit to Indiana as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Atlantic 10 member and backyard rival Duquesne at Consol Energy Center. The Panthers also have home games against mid-majors Manhattan, St. Bonaventure, Oakland, Holy Cross and Florida Gulf Coast before opening ACC play on the road against North Carolina State and Boston College.
The Panthers host another mid-major, Northeast Conference member Bryant, in February.
“We try to get the best teams possible. It’s a huge challenge,” Dixon said. “We play a certain number of home games. Duquesne is a game we should play. It frustrates me when sometimes people outside don’t understand how important it is to people in Pittsburgh.
“We’re playing teams in the preseason that are going to be good. We’re playing in the ACC. We’re playing a rivalry game. We’re playing a couple road games, which most teams don’t play at our level. We’ve had a pretty good record, so … not many teams (are) left that we would like to play that would be a big name.”
Predictably, ACC teams thin out their nonconference schedules with home games against opponents they’re expected to beat.
For every Indiana and potential high-profile opponent in Maui, there is an Oakland, Niagara or Duquesne — teams that finished a combined 33-63 last season.
“Our schedule’s not any different than anybody else,” Dixon said. “Everybody’s doing the same thing.”
Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse twice each this season in addition to facing North Carolina, Duke and Virginia once each. All four ACC opponents were ranked in the preseason Top 25.
“We’re always going to have the toughest schedule in the conference since we’ve got Louisville and Syracuse (twice),” Dixon said. “It’s not even close.
“Who’s going to have two better teams in the country? But I think it’s good overall for us and for our program.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.