|Pitt had a big dip last year but made a run in the NIT and should be improved in 2012-13. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- You can't win without a point guard. Jamie Dixon knows that as well as anyone.
Pittsburgh's head coach survived last season, but it was far from a typical Pitt season. There were still 22 victories, but 17 losses -- and instead of the Panthers' normal spot in the NCAA tournament and finishing somewhere near the top of the Big East standings, the program was on the outside looking in when March rolled around. The Panthers were never a factor in the league race.
Now Dixon has gone from zero point guards to a pair.
Freshman James Robinson is pushing veteran and a healthy Tray Woodall at the point guard spot. Really pushing. It's highly unlikely the 6-foot-3 DeMatha product will wrestle the starting position away from Woodall, but you can never have enough floor leaders -- and Robinson has been as impressive as anyone in the program in the offseason and since practice started last week.
Yes, even more so than the big New Zealander Steven Adams.
Pittsburgh should return to, well, being Pittsburgh -- that rough-around-the-edges team that outworks and grinds out victories even though it doesn't always look pretty doing so.
The point guard situation is solidified, especially if Woodall can remain healthy. He was never truly healthy last season and the result was an atypical Pittsburgh campaign in which the team finished with a 5-13 conference mark.
The frontcourt is loaded, even with the abrupt departure of Khem Birch after the first semester last season. There's Adams, who received Big East Preseason Newcomer of the Year honors despite nearly all of the coaches in the league never having laid eyes on the big man; veteran Dante Taylor, who hasn't lived up to the expectations of a McDonald's All-American, but is still a four-year vet who can be a valuable piece; also 6-foot-9 junior Talib Zanna and 6-foot-11 sophomore Malcolm Gilbert.
Adams has received the most hype, as a future NBA guy -- possibly even a lottery pick by some who have seen him in-person. Dixon said he's a big (245 pounds), strong, hard-playing big man who can really pass the ball, but still needs to work on his low-post game.
"He plays hard, listens and wants to get better," Dixon said. "A 7-footer who has a high-motor. There just aren't a lot of those."
That leaves the wings as the one glaring question mark for the Panthers.
"That's the key for us," Dixon admitted.
There are options, but Lamar Patterson, a junior who averaged 9.6 points per game last season, is the most likely candidate to emerge as a scoring weapon. He'll be the X-factor, the guy that Dixon needs if the Panthers are to truly be dangerous. There's also Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who averaged 15.8 points per game at the mid-major level, as well as freshman Chris Jones and sophomore Cameron Wright. J.J. Moore, Dixon said, will see time at both forward spots.
After an off-year, people seem to be forgetting about the Panthers. This isn't the same team that struggled through multiple injuries last season, including one that forced shooting guard Ashton Gibbs to run the point for a while. This one has no one currently on the injury report, and resembles those teams that have gone 238-77 in Dixon's nine-year tenure at the school.
"I think so," Dixon said. "But we've got to stay healthy."