Pittsburgh Basketball Preview: #40
Overall Rank: #40
Conference Rank: #6 Big East Conference
2008-09: 31-5, 15-3
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Jamie Dixon (163-45 at Pittsburgh, 163-45 overall)
Coach Jamie Dixon has never failed to lead his Pittsburgh team to the NCAA Tournament. That should not change this year, but that streak is certainly in jeopardy with the departure of four starters. What guard Levance Fields and forwards Tyrell Biggs, DeJuan Blair and Sam Young did for this team last season can not be understated. This was a team that was ranked number one in the nation for a time and ended up with an extremely impressive 31-5 record.
Key Losses: F Tyrell Biggs, F DeJuan Blair, G Levance Fields, F Sam Young
Coach Dixon knew he would need some quality big men to fill the void left behind by Biggs, Blair and Young and this class addresses that need. Dwight Miller redshirted last season and his experience in the program will give him an early leg up in the battle for playing time in the frontcourt. Miller is still a work in progress, but he is a solid rebounder and defender. The star of the incoming freshmen class is Dante Taylor. The 6-9, 235 pound power forward is deceptively agile and will play facing the basket. Finding somebody who can play with their back to the basket like fellow incoming freshmen J.J. Richardson or Talib Zanna would be nice. Wing Lamar Patterson will also be suiting up for the Panthers this season.
The backcourt has its star in the only returning starter on the team. Jermaine Dixon averaged 8.4 points per game last year, but it is his defensive intensity that makes him so special. The more intriguing issue on the perimeter is at the point guard position. Brad Wanamaker was usually one of the first players off the bench last season, but now he is the likely candidate to step into the starting point guard position. He might not be the next Fields and dish out 7.5 assists per game, but he is a steady playmaker and a good athlete who can attack the basket and hit the outside shot. Ashton Gibbs can handle the ball too, but he can also shoot it. Despite limited playing time, Gibbs was third on the team in three-pointers made and first in three-point field-goal percentage at an impressive 43.9 percent. Travon Woodall, who missed most of his freshman campaign with an injury, is also a candidate to play the point.
Ideally Gibbs would once again provide a spark off the bench, but he might be forced into the starting lineup early in the year while small forward Gilbert Brown is ineligible for the first semester. Brown is not a shooter, but he will give the team a much needed tough rebounder on the wing. Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee are a couple of other relatively unknown players who simply did not see much playing time due to the fact that the talent in front of them was so immense. McGhee only averaged 6.7 minutes per game last year, but at 6-10 and 250 pounds he is the type of player who can score with his back to the basket and clog the paint.
Who to Watch:
And it is a big guy who can clog the paint that this Pitt team lacks. Taylor and Miller are both great athletes who can score by attacking the basket, but Pitt is used to having a player like Blair eating up space in the paint and scoring with their back to the basket. If McGhee is not that guy, Pitt might be forced to play with a couple young big guys who are great players, but not back to the basket scorers.
This Pitt team has more than enough talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Players like Wanamaker and Gibbs are quality players who were just forced to the bench in years past due to the talent in front of them. This is their time to shine and they will not disappoint and Coach Dixon’s NCAA Tournament appearance streak will stay alive.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Brad Wanamaker, Junior, Guard, 5.8 points per game
Ashton Gibbs, Sophomore, Guard, 4.3 points per game
Jermaine Dixon, Senior, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Dante Taylor, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Gary McGhee, Junior, Center, 1.2 points per game
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