A Post-Deadline Look at the Big East: Pittsburgh Panthers

WASHINGTON - MARCH 19: Gary McGhee #52 of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts to their loss to the Butler Bulldogs during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Verizon Center on March 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Panthers are the defending Big East regular season champions. They finished with a 15-3 mark in the Big East and 27-4 overall record. However in typical Pitt fashion their stay in the post season was extremely short. Pitt lost the first game they played in the Big East Tournament and the second game of the NCAA Tournament. Pitt is incredibly consistent... No matter who they lose or who they return Pitt will consistently win 10 plus games in the Big East and then lose before  the Final Four, usually before the second weekend.

Will it be more of the same for the Panthers?

Key Loses:

Graduating: Gilbert Brown (11.3pts, 4.4rbds, 2.7asts), Brad Wanamaker(11.7pts 5.2rbds, 5.1asts), Gary McGhee (6.9pts, 7.7rbds)

Early Entry: None

Transferring: J.J. Richardson (1.1pts, 0.9rbds)

 

Key Returns:

Seniors: Ashton Gibbs (16.8pts, 2.8 asts, 2.4rbds), Nasir Robinson (9.4pts, 4.9rbds)

Juniors: Travon Woodal (6.4pts, 3.4asts, 2.3rbds), Dante Taylor (5.1pts, 4.5rbds)

Sophomores: J.J. Moore (3.7pts, 1.3rbds), Talib Zanna (3.7pts, 3.4rbds) (RS soph), Lamar Paterson (2.6pts, 2.0rbds) (RS soph)

Red Shirt Freshman: Isiah Epps, Cameron Wright

Incoming Freshman:

Khem Birch: 6'8" PF #14 Scout #9 Rivals #11 ESPN

Malcolm Gilbert: 6'11" C #83 Scout #133 Rivals #57 ESPN

Durand Johnson: 6'6" SG #88 Scout #120 Rivals NR ESPN

John Johnson:  6'1" SG NR

 

The Panthers lose three very big pieces off of the team that won the Big East last season. They lost their second, third and fifth leading scorers. They lost their first, second and fifth leading rebounders, and they lost their first and fourth leading assist men. In percentage terms, they lost:

  • 42 percent of their scoring.
  • 45.5 percent of their rebounding.
  • 45.6 percent of their assists
  • 42 percent of their steals
  • 73.3 percent of their blocks

Now just imagine how bad those numbers would look if Ashton Gibbs had decided to keep his name in the draft.

The loses of Wanamaker, McGhee, and Brown can't be only measured in numbers. Their intangibles and leadership will be hard to replace.

Luckily, veteran seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson will be there to lead this team. Gibbs will be the Preseason BE Player of the Year, one would imagine, and Robinson provides the toughness that personifies Pitt basketball. Junior Dante Taylor will most likely start at center and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Travon Woodall will start at point and the line up will be rounded out by one of two sophomore swing men, either JJ Moore or Lamar Patterson. Pitt will have a lot of depth but it's mostly young, inexperienced players. Talib Zanna most likely backs up the 4 spot. Epps and Wright will provide depth at guard. with the four person recruiting class providing help from the bench.

  • Khem Birch is the gem of this class. The McDonald's All American is a force on the defensive end. He is athletic, a good rebounder, and a great shot blocker. That being said he still has a ways to go on the offensive end. He seems a lot like the departing McGhee, but it's unlikely that as a freshman his defense will match Gary's and he's not on the offensive level of McGhee who wasn't a big scorer in the first place.
  • Malcolm Gilbert is a very similar prospect. Not as athletic as Birch, but a great shot blocker and defensive presence. Offensive end is also a work in progress. I saw him play at the Capital Classic and came away impressed. I think he's going to be a good player. Will need to add bulk to bang in the big east. His offensive moves are slow and predictable, but he has nice form on them so that should improve as he becomes more comfortable.
  • Durand Johnson is a great three point shooter. He's athletic and a big time scorer. He needs to work on his ball handling and add some diversity to his game. Right now just a three point shooter. Needs to work on the ability to drive and a mid-range game. Will probably not see a lot of time with two players currently ahead of him at the three spot and Gibbs most likely taking up almost all the minutes at the two spot. 
  • John Johnson is the least heralded prospect in the group. He'll be fighting with the two Red Shirt freshman to back up the guard positions. He's a scoring combo guard who is working at becoming a better point guard. Right now he's better at creating for himself than others. He's a streaky shooter who needs to work on his outside shot to keep defenses honest. 

Jamie Dixon is a great coach and he runs a great system. No matter who he has his teams are going to win games. Despite losing a lot, don't write off the Panthers. With the return of Gibbs they should be right up there battling for the top spot in the conference. I don't expect the Panthers to repeat as champions, but they will be in the top four next year. But do not pick them to go far in your office pool.

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