#11 Pittsburgh Men's Basketball Preview

Pittsburgh Panthers

Overall Rank: #11
Conference Rank: #3 Big East
Pittsburgh Men's College Basketball Logo
Pittsburgh Team Page

2010-11: 28-6, 15-3
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Jamie Dixon (216-60 at Pittsburgh, 216-60 overall)

Pittsburgh won the Big East, but again failed to reach the elusive Final Four. The Panthers may again be on the outside looking in due their youth. The Panthers have more than enough talent, but the experience factor may loom large come March. However, the Panthers do have a superb player to build around in Ashton Gibbs. The 6-2 senior is one of the best shooters in the nation and knocked down 3.3 three-pointers per game last year at a 49.0 percent clip. That is some great shooting, but Gibbs can also attack the basket and score in the paint or at least draw a foul. This team has pieces that need filled in around Gibbs, but he is a great leader and a clutch shooter who can will this group deep into March.

Who’s Out:
Losing Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee will likely result in some growing pains for the young Panthers. Wanamaker was Gibbs backcourt mate last year and ranked second on the team with 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds and first with 1.4 steals per contest. Brown was another double digit scorer who could bang in the paint and step outside and knock down the long ball. McGhee was the traditional big man who would always fight hard for rebounds. McGhee never turned into much of a scorer, but his rebounding will be greatly missed.

Who’s In:
Four incoming freshmen and two redshirt freshmen will look for immediate playing time this year. All six will not work their way into Coach Jamie Dixon’s regular rotation, but the opportunity is there for most of them. The star of the class is Khem Birch, a 6-9, 220 pound forward, who is getting bigger and stronger by the day. He is a very nice pickup for Pitt and should step right into a starting role. He may not be a great scorer as a freshman, but he is a tough player who can hit the glass effectively and that is what this team needs from their big men. Malcolm Gilbert is another big body who can play some defense. Durand Johnson is a versatile 6-6 forward who can do a whole lot of things. Cameron Wright will also vie for some minutes on the wing. Isaiah Epps and John Johnson are both point guards who have a lot of speed and quickness.

Who to Watch:
Nasir Robinson is the only other starter returning besides Gibbs. The 6-5, 225 pound forward is not your typical power forward. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with grit, determination and strength. He is a sneaky scorer and a pretty good athlete who can hit the glass effectively. Pitt will need him to continue to develop into a consistent interior scorer and help out on the glass as much as possible. When Robinson was not starting, Talib Zanna usually got the nod. At 6-9, Zanna is a more traditional big man and he should see an increase in playing time after earning some quality minutes as a freshman. Like most of Pitt’s team, Dante Taylor is an efficient scorer. He never started a game last season, but Taylor proved to be a very effective rebounder and defender off of the bench. With wing Lamar Patterson and small forward J.J. Moore both coming off of relatively successful freshmen campaigns, the Panthers frontcourt has a lot of options.

Final Projection:
Tray Woodall, formerly Travon Woodall, will be the man who spearheads the Pittsburgh attack on both ends of the floor. Woodall dished out 3.4 assists per game last year and only turned the ball over 1.5 times. Woodall’s most important job will be getting everybody involved, but if he can start knocking down the mid-range jumper with more consistency, he too can be one of the scorers on this team. Pitt rarely depends too heavily on one player and others will emerge and help shoulder the load along with Gibbs. It will be Woodall’s job to find those players and get them the ball in a situation where they can do what they do best. That will get the youngsters into the flow of the game and boost confidence across the board. If that happens, this Pittsburgh team can start thinking about a Final Four.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Tray Woodall, Junior, Guard, 6.4 points per game
Ashton Gibbs, Senior, Guard, 16.8 points per game
Dante Taylor, Junior, Forward, 5.1 points per game
Nasir Robinson, Senior, Forward, 9.4 points per game
Khem Birch, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season

Madness 2012 NBA Draft Rankings:
#16 Khem Birch
#59 Ashton Gibbs

Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#24 Khem Birch
#63 Malcolm Gilbert
#105 Durand Johnson

Check out another story about Pittsburgh basketball