Dixon, Pitt preparing for new-look ACC

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PITTSBURGH – It’s going to take more than having Duke on the schedule for Jamie Dixon to change the way he does his job, much less the way his players do theirs.


The Pittsburgh coach allows the 2013-14 season will have a different flavor to it now that the Panthers have officially jumped from the Big East to the ACC. Just don’t expect Dixon to get away from the things that made Pitt one of the most successful programs in the country over the last decade.


“We’ll do what we do,” Dixon said.


Meaning play defense, rebound and stay patient on offense. h, and did he mention play defense? It worked for Pitt in the Big East. He doesn’t see any reason to switch it up just because of what he believes is the misguided perception that the ACC is a more refined league.


“Having so many teams (in the Big East), we saw so many styles, that’s what’s going to happen in the ACC,” Dixon said Thursday. “The great strength of our conference was we got to see everything.”


And Dixon expects it to be much of the same in what he called “the best conference in the country.” It’s a designation Dixon used frequently to describe the Big East. He’s not flip-flopping on the issue because it’s politically expedient. He figures with Pitt and Syracuse coming over this year followed by Louisville in 2014, the ACC will be just as deep and strong as the Big East at its height.


“Going from the best to the best is a good thing to do,” he said.


While Dixon is diplomatic while describing the perceived style differences between Pitt’s old conference home and its new one, his players are a little more straightforward. Sophomore guard Durand Johnson grew up in Baltimore and was recruited by Maryland before signing with Pitt. The Panthers have proven to be a good fit for the athletic swingman. He’s not sure if the old guard in the ACC will feel the same way about the Panthers crashing the party.


That might not be a bad thing.


“In the Big East, it’s more tough, more gritty,” Johnson said. “I was always told and always seen that guys (in the ACC) were more finesse and just get up and down the floor and the Big East is just tough.”


Johnson thinks Pitt can do both. They lost point guard Tray Woodall and center Steven Adams off a team that went 24-9 before losing to Wichita State in the second round of the ACC tournament. In their place are quicker more athletic players like freshman guard Josh Newkirk and forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young.


Several Panthers used the word “uptempo” while describing the difference between last year’s team and the one that will hit the floor Nov. 8 against Savannah State and even Dixon is pleased with the versatility he has on his hands.


“Josh brings a higher gear offensively than we’ve ever had,” Dixon said. “He’s probably the quickest guy we’ve ever had. That doesn’t mean the best … but it’s a good thing to start with.”


Newkirk is from Raleigh, N.C., the heart of ACC country. He was lightly recruited by traditional ACC schools outside of N.C. State, his mother’s alma mater. He chose Pitt because of the vibe he felt on his official visit and isn’t sure the label the Panthers have earned as a methodical, almost plodding, offensive team is entirely fair.


“You watch us in practice, we can get after it,” he said. “We like to get in the open court and do things and create. I think it’s something that’s going to be a strength.”


Johnson is a bit more emphatic. He just smiled when asked if he’s looking forward to giving the old guard in the ACC a taste of the old school Big East.


“Playing against the Dukes, the North Carolinas … they looked over me so it kind of gives me a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I finally get the chance to show these guys, they’re good but I’m good also.”


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