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Panthers get ready to run in Stallings’ system | TribLIVE.com
Pitt

Panthers get ready to run in Stallings’ system

Bob Cohn
| Wednesday, November 9, 2016 7:00 p.m
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Pitt's Michael Young celebrates a basket during the first half Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in South Bend, Ind.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jamel Artis takes a shot over Pitt-Johnstown's Jake Laravie on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, at Petersen Events Center.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cameron Johnson dunks past Pitt-Johnstown's Josh Wise on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, at Petersen Events Center.
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Yacine Diop shoots a jump shot against Notre Dame's Hannah Huffman during the Panthers 65-55 loss to the Fighting Irish at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015.
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Yacine Diop shoots a jump shot in the paint against Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey during the Panthers 65-55 loss to the Fighting Irish at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015.

Preparing to meet his new team, Pitt coach Kevin Stallings made sure to avoid any preconceptions based on a system that was not his own.

So he avoided watching even a single minute of game film from last season.

“I don’t know how they played,” he said, “I just know how we want to play.”

How Stallings wants the Panthers to play is fast. Quick. Up-tempo. “Go, go, go,” he exhorts players during practice.

He did, however, acknowledge he “heard” some things about last season’s team.

What that likely was, and what Pitt fans certainly know, is that predecessor Jamie Dixon generally favored a more deliberate pace.

In addition to winning a lot of games (332) and recruiting talented players despite tough academic standards during 17 seasons at Vanderbilt, Stallings got the Pitt job because he likes to keep things brisk on offense (although with three 7-footers last season he had to modify the approach somewhat).

“Players like it fast, fans like it fast and the only group that leaves is the coaches,” he said. “We’re all too controlling anyway. We need to let loose and let the players have some fun.”

The players so far have embraced the system, due in no small part to being the right players — a core of four savvy seniors and a starting five ranging in height from 6-6 to 6-9, quick, long-armed athletes who can run, jump and defend.

“We want to push the tempo, and that won’t change,” Stallings said. “The only thing I want to be certain of is that we’re taking the right shots. We can run as fast as we can but that doesn’t mean we’re going to pinch off the first bad shot that we see. We still want to get to a good shot.”

Stallings equates bad shots with turnovers.

“You take a bad shot, you might as well have just thrown it to them,” he said. “We’ll explore and grind until we get the shot that we want, and there are going to be some nights where the defenses force you to play 25 seconds of offense. And if they do and when they do, we’ve got to be willing to do it.”

The seniors — guards Jamel Artis and Chris Jones and forwards Sheldon Jeter and Mike Young — are joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Cameron Johnson, who is 6-8 and listed as a guard.

All have demonstrated they can adapt to both styles.

The best example might be Young, a tough inside player at 6-9 but mobile and agile (and smart) enough to earn the freedom to roam from the paint and shoot from a reasonable distance.

“It’s about scoring, not about how fast we play or what pace we run it,” Stallings said. “We’re going to push the ball hard. Hopefully, we’ll also be finding and taking good shots.”

Minus a true big man, Pitt still will pose matchup problems on offense.

Young is especially challenging to defend, as is the 6-7 Artis, a converted forward playing point guard.

Defensively, the Panthers mainly are an aggressive man-to-man team that emphasizes constant switching and denying the ball.

One concern for Stallings, who favors a nine-man rotation, is the questionable depth past sixth man Ryan Luther.

Time could take care of that, as well as the squad fully acclimating to a new coach.

But Stallings has talent and experience at his disposal — six of the top seven scorers return — and that’s not a bad way to start.

Bob Cohn is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

Categories: Pitt
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