Overall Rank: #11
Conference Rank: #4 Big East
2007-08: 27-10, 10-8, 7th
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Last year was more of the same for Pittsburgh. The Panthers won 27 games, reached the Big East Tournament Final and then disappointed everybody with a poor showing in the NCAA Tournament. In their seven straight trips to the big dance, the Panthers have not advanced past the Sweet Sixteen. Does this group have what it takes to end the tournament drought? Maybe, but that is what many thought about last year’s group as well. We will have to wait until March to find out.
The backcourt has some holes to fill with the absence of Keith Benjamin, Mike Cook and Ronald Ramon. Benjamin and Ramon were the teams best outside shooters. Ramon also dished out 3.6 assists per game. Cook was only on the floor for 11 games, but he was a consistent double-digit scorer when healthy. His ability to break down defenders and get to the basket will be missed. Cassin Diggs, Maurice Polen and Austin Wallace have wrapped up their careers at Pitt after seeing limited playing time.
Obviously Coach Jamie Dixon needed to bring in some guards to off-set the absence of Benjamin, Cook and Ramon, and he has some talented newcomers who hope to be ready. The most important will be Jermaine Dixon. The 6-3 guard averaged 20.9 points per game last year at Tallahassee Community College in Florida and that experience will be a big plus for Pitt. Dixon, the younger brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, is tough and quick. The lefty can play either guard spot, but for now the Panthers need a shooting guard and Dixon will have to see quite a few minutes at that position. Ashton Gibbs is another great shooter who will provide a spark off the bench and Travon Woodall will spend his freshman campaign as the back-up point guard. Ryan Tiesi, a walk-on transfer from Bellarmine University, will provide emergency depth on the perimeter. Nasir Robinson is a talented small forward who can score by getting to the basket and help out on the glass. Dwight Miller is the lone big man heading to Pitt. The 6-8 power forward will likely need some time to develop his game, but he could contribute as a freshman off the bench.
Who to Watch:
When he is healthy, Levance Fields is a great floor leader. The 5-10 senior missed a dozen games in January and February with a broken foot, but he is healthy and ready to lead his team to the 2009 NCAA Tournament. In the 25 games Fields did play in last year, he averaged 11.9 points and 5.3 assists. Fields is not the best shooter around and only hit 27.7 percent of his long range attempts last year, but he certainly can hit the outside shot and score by getting to the basket. However, his best asset is his ability to run the show. Fields’ quickness is difficult for anybody to keep up with and he does a great job creating open shots for his teammates and even a better job keeping the turnovers down. The problem is the rest of the backcourt. Gilbert Brown will almost certainly step into a starting role just like he did last year after Cook went down with an injury. Brown could have a breakout year, but he does not have a great outside shot. That should leave Brown at the three spot, but there may be no choice but to move him to the two in certain situations. The only other perimeter player with any significant experience whatsoever is Brad Wanamaker. The 6-4 sophomore only averaged 11 minutes per game in 30 contests as a freshman. He is a solid ballhandler and will score around the basket, but he does not give the Panthers the shooter that they need.
If Wanamaker or one of the newcomers does not secure the off-guard starting job, Brown could start there instead. That would move 6-6 forward Sam Young to the three spot. Young had a great junior year, averaging 18.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. Young actually led the team in three-point shooting percentage and would have no problem playing the three instead of the four. DeJuan Blair is the other staple of the frontcourt. The 6-7, 265 forward averaged 11.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals as a freshman and will be well known on a national level by the end of the year. Tyrell Biggs will play an important role off the bench again this year or he could slide into the starting lineup if Coach Dixon wants to play big.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Levance Fields, Senior, Guard, 11.9 points per game
Brad Wanamaker, Sophomore, Guard, 2.2 points per game
Gilbert Brown, Sophomore, Forward, 6.5 points per game
Sam Young, Senior, Forward, 18.1 points per game
DeJuan Blair, Sophomore, Forward, 11.6 points per game