Game within the game: Pitt winning the possession battle

Pitt was all over the board last year. They began the season 11-1 before going 6-15 down the stretch. In the postseason they won three straight to get to the Championship series of the CBI, where they defeated Washington State. The problem was their defense, which was awful. After having a top 40 defense in seven of eight years, the Panthers plummeted to 151st.

Still, Jamie Dixon is a great coach and the roster is loaded, so there was lots of cautious optimism heading into the year. Run the Floor had them pegged at No. 25 in the preseason.

The good news is that Pitt is 12-1. The bad news is that their schedule was built for a fast start rather than an impressive resume. They've played one team ranked in Pomeroy's top 50 (a loss to Michigan) and two other teams ranked in the top 100 (Lehigh and Detroit). Otherwise it's been the Fordhams and Delaware States of the world.

Tomorrow they begin conference play, and they'll be facing a fellow 12-1 team: the Cincinnati Bearcats.

The question is whether or not this team is for real. Tomorrow will go a long way toward answering that, but in the meantime, here is a big reason for hope: Possessions.

Pitt values the ball. They've played a total of 776 possessions, and have only given the ball away 120 times. They're the 7th best team in the nation at taking care of the rock. On the flip side, they force turnovers on defense. There, they're 47th nationally and have turned teams over 186 times. That's 66 possessions they've had opportunities to score in which their opponent did not.

Though that's not all. Pitt is also the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the nation, grabbing 45% of their own misses. They've extended 174 possessions via the offensive glass. And, like the turnover battle, Pitt is excellent (No. 36 nationally) at NOT allowing offensive boards. Pitt opponents only grab 27.5% of their misses. They've only allowed 111 offensive rebounds. That's another 63 possessions that Pitt has had that their opponents have not.

Combined with their turnover differential, that is 129 possession, or roughly ten a game. That's a good recipe for success.