Monday, October 24, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 10 Pitt Panthers

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 28-6, 15-3 (1st Big East), lost to Butler in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Jamie Dixon

Key Losses: Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee, Gilbert Brown

Newcomers: Khem Birch, Malcolm Gilbert, Durand Johnson, John Johnson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Travon Woodall, Sr.
- G: Ashton Gibbs, Sr.
- F: Lamar Patterson, So.
- F: Nasir Robinson, Sr.
- C: Dante Taylor, Jr.
- Bench: Talib Zanna, So.; Khem Birch, Fr.; Malcolm Gilbert, Fr.; JJ Moore, So.; Durand Johnson, Fr.; Isaiah Epps, Fr.; John Johnson, Fr.

Outlook: The names change for the Panthers, but the product on the floor is always the same. Pitt is a physical defensive team, they force you to take tough shots, they execute offensively and they pound the offensive glass as well as anyone in the country. They are the definition of a program. Want proof? This year, they lose three starters to graduation, but they bring back every member of their very deep bench. Jamie Dixon recruits players that he knows are willing to wait their turn, that are willing to spend a couple of years developing before becoming starters. That formula is one of the reasons they are always going to compete at the top of the Big East, and on the years that they have a star like Ashton Gibbs, they do things like they did last year and win the Big East.

Gibbs is one of the most unique stars in the country. He is a lights out shooter, whether he's spotting up from beyond the arc or hitting a 15 footer curling off of a screen. He's not unlike most stars in that he can create his own shot, but he does it in a way that very few in the country are able to. Gibbs is sensational at using screens to get open. He's so good that Dixon uses Gibbs as his go-to guy at the end of a clock. But instead of isolating him on the wing and allowing him to try and create a shot by going 1-on-1, Dixon runs Gibbs off of screens and allows him to try and lose his defender to create a shot. There's not a player in the country as good at getting open off of a screen as Gibbs.

Joining Gibbs in the back court will be Travon Woodall. Woodall came off the bench last season, but with Brad Wanamaker graduating, he'll be moving into the starting lineup this year. It will be interesting to see what Woodall can accomplish as the team's primary point guard. He's a much different kind of player than Wanamaker, who was the team's point guard last season. Wanamaker was bigger and a better rebounder than Woodall, but Woodall is much quicker. He should be a problem to keep out of the lane, where his 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (second in the Big East to Wanamaker last season) should allow him to thrive as a playmaker. Beyond Woodall and Gibbs, however, Pitt is going to have an inexperienced back court. Three freshmen -- Cameron Wright, Isaiah Epps, and John Johnson -- will provide the depth.

It will be interesting to see who ends up replacing Gilbert Brown and starting at the small forward spot for Pitt as there are a number of candidates. The most likely seems to be Lamar Patterson, a versatile, 6'5" sophomore that can play any position, shooting guard to power forward. He's the best defender of the group, although he's not nearly the athlete or the shooter that Brown was. Freshman Durand Johnson, a 6'6" native of Baltimore, is, but he's also a freshman, which makes it seems unlikely that he'll start immediately. JJ Moore, another sophomore small forward, will also see time at that position.

The power forward spot will be a bit of a question mark, at least early in the season. Senior Nasir Robinson underwent minor surgery on his meniscus, the same injury that cost him the first three games of last season. Robinson is a perfect fit for this Pitt system. He's only 6'5", but he's a terrific glue-guy, a blue-collar defender that really understands how to use his body to gain position and always seems to find himself open around the basket. If he does miss any time, expect sophomore Talib Zanna to slide in and start at the four again. He did the same thing last season and had a couple of big games.

At the center spot, junior Dante Taylor -- a top 15 recruit when he came out of high school -- will finally slide into the starting role, taking over for Gary McGhee. Khem Birch is a top 10 freshman this year and should see plenty of time up front, as will Malcolm Gilbert, another freshman that comes in with less hype. When it comes to Pitt's quartet of bigs -- Zanna, Taylor, Birch and Gilbert -- the names don't exactly matter. Taylor may be a bit stronger and Birch may be more athletic and Zanna may have a flat top, but they all serve the same purpose. They are in there to take up space on the defensive end and attack the glass on the offensive end. Despite barely having a player with a post-move, Pitt was top five in offensive efficiency all year in 2010-2011. That's a tribute to how well this group gets on the offensive glass and how well they are able to finish their easy looks around the rim when they get those offensive boards.

The Panther's philosophy is simple. There is nothing flashy about this group. They play a tough, physical and disciplined brand of defense. They don't gamble for steals or force many turnovers, they simply force you to work the shot clock and take a difficult shot, cleaning the defensive glass. Offensively, they execute their sets and attack the glass as hard as any team in the country. It works. Pitt doesn't have egos on their roster. They simply have a group of hard-working kids that buy into the program that Jamie Dixon is selling. The Big East is once again going to be loaded at the top, but the Panthers should battle with UConn, Syracuse and Louisville for the Big East title.

1 comment:

KT2424 said...

Birch will start...the guy will be a top ten first round NBA pick in 2 years...were did you get your info from....terrible