Friday, October 29, 2010

No. 5 Pitt Panthers

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Last Season: 25-9, 13-5 (t-2nd Big East), lost to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Jamie Dixon

Key Losses: Jermaine Dixon

Newcomers: Talib Zanna, JJ Moore, Isaiah Epps, Aron Nwankwo, Cameron Wright

Projected Lineup:

  • G: Ashton Gibbs, Jr.
  • G: Brad Wanamaker, Sr.
  • F: Gilbert Brown, Sr.
  • F: Nasir Robinson, Jr.
  • C: Gary McGhee, Sr.
  • Bench: Travon Woodall, So.; Cameron Wright, Fr.; Isaiah Epps, Fr.; Dante Taylor, So.; JJ Moore, Fr.; Talib Zanna, Fr.

Outlook: 2010 was supposed to be a down year for the Panthers, as they lost DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields, and Sam Young. But Pitt, who has officially become the Wisconsin of the East Coast, got some breakout performances and used their typical stingy defense to finish tied for second in the Big East and rack up 25 wins.

This year, Pitt returns just about everyone from last season's team. It starts with Ashton Gibbs, who went from being a spot up shooter off the bench as a freshman to one of the best players in the Big East as a sophomore. An unheralded kid coming out of high school, Gibbs is a knock-down shooter. He has range well beyond the three point line, and he can hit that shot with consistency even when pressured. Joining him in the back court will be Brad Wanamaker. Wanamaker has turned into Pitt's do-it-all player. He rebounds, he scores the ball, he led the team in assists last season. He's not exactly a point guard, as his handle leaves something to be desired, but his ability to create shots, either for himself of for a teammate, is valuable for this Pitt team that can, at times, struggle offensively.

The Panther's third guard this season will be Travon Woodall. Woodall is everything you would expect out of a point guard from Brooklyn. He's quick, he can get into the lane, he finds assists, and he's a pest playing on-the-ball defense. Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright, two highly regarded freshmen, should see time in the back court as well.

At the small forward, Gilbert Brown should start. Brown is a superb athlete that has begun to show flashes of being more than just a leaper. While he only took 53 threes last season (he missed the first semester with academics, then came off the bench), he hit almost 40% of them. Despite playing just 23 mpg, he was the third leading scorer for the Panthers, and went for 20 three times. Brown is definitely a guy that could have a big season for Pitt in a starting role. Freshman JJ Moore looks to be the guy that will spell Brown.

Up front, Gary McGhee returns to anchor the front line. McGhee never has been and never will be anything special, but he is a big, strong kid that can defend on the block, rebound the ball, block some shots, and finish at the rim. Nasir Robinson, an undersized but scrappy forward, will likely be the other starter at forward, but he will miss about the first ten games after undergoing knee surgery.

That surgery may end up being a blessing in disguise, however. Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna are the two big guys that come off of Pitt's bench. Zanna is redshirt freshman that is big and athletic, but he's raw. Taylor was a top 15 recruit last season, but he never quite found a rhythm. If Dixon can get these two guys minutes, get them some experience, and get their confidence level up, it could be huge for Pitt down the road. Especially for Taylor, a guy who has all-Big East potential.

You know what you are going to get with this Pitt team. Tough defense and aggressive rebounding. Nothing is going to change with Jamie Dixon's system. I don't know how much better Gibbs and Wanamaker can get, but if Brown and Taylor both improve this year, this Pitt team can win the Big East and make it to the Final Four.

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