After suffering through a rare season filled with struggles, the Pittsburgh Panthers will look to end their tenure as members of the Big East Conference with a bang. A few key newcomers should make it easier for Jamie Dixon to return to the winning ways this program has become accustomed to seeing.
Pittsburgh didn't have a great low post scoring option last season, but that should change this year with the arrival of seven-foot freshman Steven Adams. Like many young big men, the New Zealand native is still developing his all-around game but is fairly polished in the paint, and also possesses a solid mid-range jumper. He will be joined in the starting frontcourt by athletic power forward Talib Zanna.
Physical Dante Taylor will provide some muscle off the bench. The former McDonald's All-American has been extremely underwhelming during his collegiate career, but will look to end things on a high note. 6-11 sophomore Malcolm Gilbert hopes to provide more size off the bench.
Dixon has the versatility of playing a smaller lineup using one of his small forwards at the four if needed. Starter Lamar Patterson returns and can really fill it up from deep. The athletic, aggressive J.J. Moore will once again be a key reserve and hopes to build momentum off an encouraging end to last season, during which he became more and more confident as a scorer. Redshirt freshman Durand Johnson and newcomer Chris Jones will likely be buried on the bench.
The Panthers will rely heavily on senior point guard Tray Woodall to bring leadership to the floor. He battled back from injury to finish last season strong and is a capable scorer or distributor. Woodall won't have the crutch of playing alongside Ashton Gibbs anymore, so it will crucial for him to truly become the lead guard.
It appears as if freshman James Robinson has won the starting spot alongside Woodall in the backcourt. He started both of the Panthers' exhibition games, which I'm a tad bit surprised by since I thought Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler would assume that role. Zeigler received a bit of a controversial waiver and was cleared to play right away by the NCAA since his father was fired as the head coach at Central Michigan this offseason. Robinson is capable of running the point as is sophomore John Johnson, who will also see time off the bench while Cameron Wright figures to once again be the odd man out of the rotation.
The additions of Adams, Robinson, and Zeigler gives Pittsburgh a shot in the arm that should allow the program to bounce back from its first losing season in conference play during the nine years of Dixon's reign. With the Big East being fairly open after Louisville and Syracuse, the Panthers are one of a handful of teams that should contend to the best of that next tier.
Player to Watch: Steven Adams, C
Besides being fairly skilled for a young big, Adams also has good mobility and isn't afraid to play hard every possession. He is a potential 2013 NBA Draft Lottery pick and could very well be a one-and-done if he shows enough of his upside during his freshman campaign.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/13 vs. Lehigh (NIT Season Tip-Off)
11/21 vs. Michigan (NIT Season Tip-Off)
11/23 vs. Virginia/Kansas State/North Texas (NIT Season Tip-Off)