Blog Entry

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted on: October 30, 2008 7:50 pm
Well, this is the one I've been waiting to do, certainly.  There are high expectations in Pittsburgh, with a great group of returning players.  Some think this might be Pitt's best chance to crack the Sweet Sixteen finally, but that's something Pitt fans have heard quite a lot the last few seasons.  I like what I see, but wild hope is mitigated in my eyes by a lot of unanswered questions.  Obviously my bias will show through here, but I have tried to be objective in applying the knowledge I have.

30-9 Overall, 10-8 Big East (7th)
Won Big East tournament
Eliminated second round NCAAs (Michigan State)


Keith Benjamin      G/F
Tyrell Biggs              F
DeJuan Blair           C
Gilbert Brown         G/F
Mike Cook                F
Cassin Diggs        G/F
LeVance Fields       G
Tim Frye                   G
Gary McGhee           C
Maurice Polen        G/F
Ronald Ramon        G
Austin Wallace         C
Brad Wanamaker    G
Sam Young               F

Benjamin, Cook, Ramon, Diggs, Wallace

A lot of activity here.  Cook missed most of the season, so he essentially was lost prior to this, but he appealed for a medical redshirt and was denied.  Ramon and Benjamin will be missed, but Ramon was not the shooter a lot of Pitt fans thought he was and Benjamin was really only great when Fields was out and he stepped into the vacuum.  Diggs was let go for scholarship room.  Wallace red shirted one year and was injured the next.  Pitt decided his injury ended his career.  I believe the greatest impact here may be on Pitt's defense, because I think the pieces are there to make up for the scoring.  Cook was an excellent defender, and Ramon really stepped up that part of his game, even while his shooting faded.  Benjamin was a very high energy guy.  I don't know if the new guys will be able to bring quite as much to the defense, especially outside.


Ryan Tiesi    G  (transfer from Bellarmine College) I have to wonder what the reason for this move was...he doesn't appear to have contributed even at Bellarmine.
Jermain Dixon  G (JUCO transfer)  He is probably a better shooter than anyone Pitt has had in a few years.  Whether he can translate his other abilities well enough to D-I play is yet to be seen.

Dwight Miller          F
Ashton Gibbs        G
Travon Woodall    G
Nasir Robinson    F

The first three are three star recruits, and Robinson four.  It's not quite as impressive a class as some others in the conference, but it makes Pitt a reasonably deep team.  Robinson should have immediate impact, and Woodall will likely get some valuable experience early while Fields is still hurt...experience that will make Pitt's depth better when it is needed.

Jonathan Baldwin and/or Michael Shanahan?

I mention these two because they are football players rumored to have an interest in walking on to the basketball squad.  Baldwin was a 4 star recruit who had accepted a scholarship to play basketball but elected to play football instead.  Shanahan I believe was a three star recruit.  It seems Baldwin may have rejected the idea, but Shanahan has expressed interest.  Either would answer some questions of depth at SF and SG, but I can't factor them in to my expectations because I don't know the chances of their joining the team.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Fairleigh Dickenson, Miami (OH), Akron, Indiana (PA), Belmont, Texas Tech, Duquesne, Vermont, UMBC, Siena, Florida State, Robert Morris

That's a pretty weak ooc, and I believe Pitt is better than all of the above teams.  However, especially without Fields, the trip to Texas could be dangerous, as could the game against a Siena team that will be hungry for a signature win, given the preseason scuttlebutt they are garnering.

Two Time Opponents:  DePaul, Connecticut, West Virginia

That's a representative cross-section of the Big East.  Very fair.

Remaining Roadies:  Rutgers, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall

Home Games:   St. John's, South Florida, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Marquette

The BE schedule for Pitt overall is pretty favorable.  They play one of the other heavyweights twice, visit one, and host the last.  They avoid trips to Marquette and St. John's, where they often struggle (odd that they play so well at MSG unless it's to play St. John's), and they get Notre Dame at home...which makes a lot of difference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Fields, Young, and Blair don't miss a step, and Gilbert Brown plays to his considerable potential.  Jermaine Dixon becomes Pitt's most reliable outside shooter in some time.  Tyrell Biggs improves, and Nasir Robinson steps right in to make the frontcourt depth considerable, and even Gary McGhee puts in some quality minutes in that regard.  Wanamaker matures, and along with help from Woodall and Gibbs provides backup to the starting guards.  All of this gels to win them a BE regular season title, lose no nonconference games, and play in (win?) an eighth BE title game in nine seasons.  They finally get past the Sweet Sixteen, perhaps all the way to the Final Four.  This team does not look like a championship winner, though, so I don't think they'd cut down the nets in Detroit even with their best season.

Worst Case Scenario:
      Blair has trouble head-to-head against several of the other elite centers in the conference.  Fields isn't quite the same after getting back from the injured foot, and Woodall isn't ready to run things in reserve.  Dixon can't produce at quite the same level in D-1, and guys like Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee fail to step in and replace the old guard.  The Panthers get upset in as many s 3 ooc games, lose all 4 games against the other preseason conference favorites, and thus fail to improve on last year's 10-8 BE record or 7th place finish.  They do get a game or two in MSG, because of how well they play there, but fall flat in the NCAA tournament as they did last season.

My Take:
     Pitt has possibilities to win either or both BE crown(s), and to make a Final Four run.  They have too many unanswered questions, though, for me to project them to have that kind of season.  They are deserving of their preseason ranking, but will have to answer most of the following questions in the affirmative to deserve it. 1) Will Dixon's transition be fairly smooth, and can he produce in D-1?  2) Can Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee (or most of them) improve upon their play from last year?  Wanamaker in particular has disappointed so far, and needs to mature.  Biggs hasn't been quite as good as advertised, either.  3) Is their "depth" actually depth and not a smokescreen?  As usual, Pitt has *a lot* of "pretty good" players.  That needs to translate (it usually does) to a sum greater than the parts.  4) Does either Baldwin or Shanahan walk on to further augment the depth?  This could be the difference between "really good" and "Elite Eight or more" perhaps.  5) Will Fields be healthy?  6) Will the freshmen have a positive impact?  Anyway, hidden within those 6 questions are about a dozen factors, and I think between 8 and 10 of these will have to fall the Panthers way for them to be the top ten team predicted by many.
Category: NCAAB

Since: Jan 15, 2007
Posted on: October 31, 2008 5:18 pm

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

I think Dixon will replace Ramon more than adequately on offense.  He seems to have a better shot than Ramon did.  I don't know if he can bring the same kind of perimiter D though.

I think we're slightly better offensively, and slightly deeper than last year...

but I worry about our defense, especially on the outside.  That's why I hesitate to think we have a team any more special than past Pitt teams have been.

Since: Dec 13, 2006
Posted on: October 31, 2008 3:57 pm

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

IF  Jermaine Dixon is as advertised and can really shoot the three then watch out!  Pitt's problem for years has been not having a killer 3 point threat.  Ramon was good but he was never the same after nagging injuries.  Sam young has developed his 3 but I dont think you can lean on him as far as behind the arc is concerned.  Fields is a leader but not a 3 point shooter. 

If we can continue to play great D and have a player who can keep pace with teams like ND that shoot the lights out, we should make a pretty good run past the sweet 16. 

Since: Jan 15, 2007
Posted on: October 31, 2008 1:11 pm

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

The only thing I think makes them different is the year of experience for Blair.  He had a lot of ticky-tacky fouls that I think he's learned to avoid, and some of Pitt's greatest struggles came when he was in foul trouble.  I also think they have more of a chance of getting quality minutes when he DOES have to sit.

Otherwise, you're pretty much right.  I don't think this is much better than previous Pitt teams, and the defense is a concern.  Some of the guys who left were among our better defensive players.  It's too tough a league for me to think Pitt will win it, but they ALWAYS play like crazy in the BE tournament.

The previous Pitt teams, with a couple possible exceptions, were *good enough* to crack the Sweet Sixteen, but didn't.  So I think the potential is there to get past it, but not really more so than previous attempts.

I like a lot about this team, but I try to be a realist.  I'm used to failure from pretty much all of my favorite sports teams, so my hope is always tempered.

Since: Jan 17, 2008
Posted on: October 31, 2008 11:09 am

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

How does this sound?? Pitt rolls through the non con... Beats the brains out of Florida State and Texas Tech.... They win 12 or 13 BE games and finish 3 or 4 (yeah I think that will be good enough for 3rd possibly in this league this year) and make a deep run in the BE tourney.... They get a 2 or 3 seed to the dance and lose in the Sweet 16 to insert team  they "should have beat" here...

I don't see this team as any different from the Pitt teams of the past.... I don't know if they will have quite the typical tough Pitt D... Last years Pitt team was less than scary on D...

There is no way that you can question Sam Young as a competitor... he will put this team on his shoulders when he needs to, but I really just don't see the talent to make a final four run. (I think you need at least 2-3 super stars, and I am not sure that Blair and Fields are THAT good)

Of course, the danger is always there that this could be Pitt's "breakout" year....

I am sure that Pitt fans will illustrate to me all the ways in which I am wrong, so... Let it begin....

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