Pitt Panthers - Looking Ahead to Next Season

The college basketball season came to an end yesterday, so I wanted to address what my Pittsburgh Panthers lineup might look like for next season. The Panthers finally made it past the Sweet 16 this season, however lost to Villanova in the Elite 8 in what might have been the best game on the tournament…. or worst from my prospective.

The team coming back for Pitt next season will not be as highly touted or ranked to start the season as this year’s team. We lose Sam Young, Levance Fields, and Tyrell Biggs. Young and Fields are virtually impossible to replace, and thus next season may be a down season for the Panthers. The good thing is that Pitt has established themselves as a solid basketball program, and right now, a “down” season would mean being around 20th in the nation, and 4th or 5th in the Big East, and still making the tournament. It is tough to hang year-in, year-out with the big dogs in the Big East, Syracuse, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova, who consistently get the best high school players in the nation.

That being said, Pitt has its first McDonalds All-American since the 1980s coming in next season in the form of Dante Taylor. Taylor is a 6’10” power forward from Maryland, who had 15 points and 6 boards in the McDonalds All-American game. Joining Taylor are 2 other elite prospects, small forward Lamar Patterson, and center Talib Zanna. Pitt also figures to get a contribution from point guard Travon Woodall, who played at the beginning of the season, then sat out to redshirt.

The biggest question mark for next season will be whether or not All-American DeJuan Blair returns to the team. If Blair is projected to be a lottery pick, as much as it pains me to say it, he should enter the draft. But most mock draft’s I have seen have him going in the 13-23 range of the draft. That makes for a tough decision. First round picks are guaranteed, so it may be the right thing for Blair to enter the draft; however he could also come back next season, be a beast, and improve his draft stock. Blair is actually from Pittsburgh, and he wants to bring this Pitt team a championship. Blair will most likely test the waters, go to some pre-draft workouts, and see how he does. I want nothing but the best for Blair in his professional career, but as a die hard Pitt fan, I want DeJuan Blair back with the Panthers next season.

If DeJuan Blair is back with the Panthers next season, the lineup should look something like this—

PG: Travon Woodall may very well get the start here. He is the only true point guard on the roster, but doesn’t have much experience. Whether he starts on not, Woodall is still a guy who Pitt expects a lot out of, he was an elite product out of high school. The Panthers could also start Dixon here if they wanted Wanamaker to start at SG, or start Gibbs here, who is also more of a SG. I expect the first game starter at PG to be Gibbs. Remember the name Isaiah Epps, who is a top 10 PG coming to Pitt in 2010.

SG: Jermaine Dixon will be the starter here next season, and will be the lone senior in the starting lineup. Dixon has shown the ability to shoot well, and score double digits, but was terrible in the tournament. Dixon will need to elevate him game, both on his three-point shooting, and on driving the ball to the hole. Gibbs, and Wanamaker can both play this position also.

SF: This will be the toughest spot to fill as it is vacated by All-American Sam Young. Gilbert Brown will be the starter here next season, and Brown was probably the best bench player for the Panthers this past season. Brown is extremely athletic, has an improving shot, and a tremendous upside. He will also be counted on to start scoring in the double digits.

PF: If Blair returns, he will shift over to his more natural power forward position. This may be a good thing for him, as scouts will get to see him at the position he will play in the pros. Okay, maybe I’m grasping, but please come back DeJuan! We all know Blair is a beast, and we will be getting a double-double out of him almost every night. If he comes back, he may be one of the favorites for player of the year, and could average around 20 and 12 a game.

C: Dante Taylor, who is also more of a power forward will start immediately at center, as he is 3 inches taller than Blair. Taylor is one of the top incoming freshman this season, and if Blair comes back, look for Pitt to go into the paint a lot, where Blair and Taylor should be able to do some damage.

Bench: Brad Wanamaker improved a lot this past season, but in my opinion is not a starter. He still makes way too many mistakes, and can’t handle the ball well. He is good in transition, and is a good guy coming off the bench. Ashton Gibbs may get the start at PG, but if he doesn’t, he will be a good guy coming off the bench to give instant offense, as he is the best three-point shooter on the team. Nasir Robinson will look to have his role increased, and with Gilbert Brown stepping into the Sam Young role, Robinson should step into the Gilbert Brown role. Increased playing time, and hopefully Robinson will look more comfortable out there. Also coming off the bench will be big man Gary McGhee, freshman big man Talib Zanna, and freshman small forward Lamar Patterson.

If DeJuan Blair does not come back next season, which is a definite possibility, the lineup could look something like this—

PG: Remains Woodall, Gibbs, possibly Dixon.
SG: Dixon, with Gibbs, Wanamaker in the mix
SF: Brown
PF: This may be a position you have to go small at. You could insert Gilbert Brown here, and even though he isn’t a PF, play 3 guards among Woodall, Wanamaker, Gibbs, Dixon, and then Brown at the PF spot. This probably isn’t the best idea. This should be freshman Dante Taylor.
C: Could be another freshman here, Talib Zanna, or could be Gary McGhee if he improves in the offseason.

Bottom line – We need to hope Blair returns to Pitt next season. Maybe if I say this enough, he will come back. I can hope.

All in all, with an established program, Pitt should be in the tournament for a 9th straight season next year, and should compete with the best in the Big East, even if they are not as good as this season. As we saw from Villanova, it is all about getting hot at the right time. I want to thank Sam Young, and Levance Fields for their great four years with the program, and wish them nothing but the best going forward. Again, next season relies significantly on DeJuan Blair coming back, which as I stated before, I am not too confident about. So in what will be a common theme of Pitt fans this offseason – Please come back DeJuan!!!!!!!


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