Wednesday, August 24, 2005



2005-2006 Team Roster from Official Team Site: ROSTER.

The Pittsburgh Coaching Staff: PITT STAFF.

Home Court: Petersen Events Center: The Pete.

OVERVIEW: Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon enters his third season as a head coach with a new-look Panther program. After two seasons as the head man, Dixon has accumulated an impressive 23-9 mark in the Big East conference and 51-14 overall mark. Much of that record has been accumulated with the parts he inherited from previous head coach Ben Howland, whom Dixon served as his top assistant.


Last season has been labeled as a disappointment for Pitt, not too many teams in the past have had 10-6 conference records dubbed as such, but with Pitt going 6-1 against Connecticut, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Boston College, to finish 10-6 in the conference is a tad mind-boggling. Pittsburgh seemed to really miss the strong presence of Jaron Brown and Julius Page on the wings and the revolving door at the wing positions last year really hampered the Panther's consistency.

The Panthers lose much of their frontcourt as they embark on Dixon’s third season, but they are helped greatly with the return of Carl Krauser as a 5th year senior and the rest of his backcourt mates are a year older. Adding to the mix is the highest rated freshmen class in the Howland/Dixon era, an era that has been to 3 sweet 16’s and 4 straight NCAA tournament appearances and a 49-15 conference record over four seasons. It is going to take some more work this year, but Pitt fully expects to be in the NCAA mix again this season.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS: For the last two seasons, when most people thought of Pittsburgh they thought of Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman beating up teams down low. Troutman earned 1st team all-conference honors last season and Taft, although never fulfilling his vast potential while at Pitt, was a force to be reckoned with as a conference freshmen of the year. This year, both those players are no longer there and Coach Dixon will have to turn to some new faces upfront to get the job done in the traditionally physical Big East.

Aaron Gray, the 7’0 275 lb C, is a player we have previously profiled as one that is expected to take a major step forward this season. Gray is more than just a big body, he has solid hands and a good touch inside. He showed his dedication to the Pitt program and bettering himself by losing over 30 lbs last season and has continually gotten the praise of the Pitt staff and those that has seen his work on a more extended basis. He flashed that potential with a 15 point performance at Villanova and other solid outings against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Boston College. Gray must continue to improve his conditioning and stay out of foul trouble to be on the floor as much as possible. With more consistent touches and extended playing time, Gray is a player that could really develop into one of the better Big East big men this season.

The other front court position is likely to be manned by redshirt junior Levon Kendall. Kendall is coming off an impressive run for the bronze medalist Canadian U-21 team in the World Championships, where he was named to the all-tournament team. Kendall exploded for a 40 point night against team USA, that even had Jamie Dixon surprised. Kendall is a skilled big man, that measures in at 6’10 and has the ability to put the ball on the floor and step out and hit shots beyond the arc. Last season he was used primarily as a wing player, which was a role he never seemed to fully find comfort in, this season, with the graduation of Chevy Troutman, his return to his natural position could help him find his niche in the Pitt program he has so patiently waited for.

RETURNEES: As mentioned earlier, the Panthers will be helped greatly with the return of all-league performer Carl Krauser. Krauser led Pittsburgh last season with 16 PPG. The 24 yr old Krauser also added 6 assists and 5 rebounds a game. However, he will need to do a better job taking care of the basketball and cut down on the 4+ turnovers a game he averaged, many coming on offensive fouls. His experience testing the NBA draft process could come in handy to help him mature as a floor general for the young Panthers. Another starter, Antonio Graves also returns to the backcourt mix next to Krauser. Graves shot 46% from 3-pt land last season, but battled ankle injuries throughout the season, which seemed to interrupt his season. Another 3-pt specialist is sophomore Ron Ramon. Even though Ramon shot just 34% from beyond the arc, it was a late season slump that took away from a solid rookie season. An injured shoulder might have been the culprit. Keith Benjamin also comes back from an assortment of injuries that limited his time early on. The sophomore guard is a superb athlete that has the potential to play a major role in the Panther plans. In the frontcourt, Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall will be counted on to lead an inexperienced group of players. JUCO transfer John DeGroat should also be in the mix this season at the wing position. Much was expected from DeGroat last season but he never was able to get his season going and saw limited action for most of the season.

INCOMING: Pittsburgh fans are probably breathing a sigh of relief today as the official roster has been released and the names of all 5 expected newcomers are listed. The big prize of the recruiting class is Sam Young, the prep school standout who attended Hargrave Military Academy last season. Young, a Washington DC native, is expected to vie for time immediately at the forward positions and contend for freshmen of the year honors in the Big East. Young blends tremendous athletic ability with a tenacious and aggressive style of play that should fit in very well in the Big East from day one. Also in the mix at the forward spots is NJ native Tyrell Biggs, another of the top recruits in the Big East. Biggs is a 6’8 250 lb forward that is surprisingly skilled and nimble for a player his size. JUCO transfer Doyle Hudson also adds depth upfront and insurance to Kendall and Gray. The decision to return by Carl Krauser came right down to the end and Pitt had covered themselves by adding NYC PG Levance Fields to their class in the spring period. Fields led his Xaverian HS team to the NYS Federation state finals and also displayed his skills in the Jordan Classic this past spring, in time, he has a chance to be an excellent Big East point guard and will learn the ropes this year from Krauser. Pitt also added 6’5 G Trevor Ferguson from Florida in the spring period as well. A guard with good size and shooting skills, Ferguson is a player not much is known about, but could fill a role at Pitt if he can hit the long range shot.

LOSSES: Pittsburgh loses Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll to graduation and Chris Taft was an early entry to the NBA draft. All three players were frontcourt stalwarts the last two seasons for Jamie Dixon and will not be replaced very easily. This change could move Pittsburgh from an inside-dominant team to more of a perimeter-orientated attack. Troutman and McCarroll were both with the program for 5 years, so it has been a long time for Big East foes to not have to worry about facing Chevy Troutman in the paint, I am sure more than a few are breathing a sigh of relief.

SCHEDULE: After a couple seasons as a marquee Big East team, the Panthers are taking at least a season away from the limelight when it comes to the schedule. The past few seasons, Pittsburgh seemingly lead the nation in national TV appearances, but with some new challengers to the throne this season, Pitt has been downgraded a bit when selection of the match-ups were made. Pitt’s schedule definitely grades out in the fair category, not extensively hard or easy this year. They do have to face rival West Virginia this season two times, but also get teams that might be in more of a rebuilding stage in Providence and Marquette twice. The also do not face in-state rival Villanova at all and miss out on the opportunity to play South Florida. If Pittsburgh can take advantage of a very reasonable home slate, they could continue their winning ways in the Big East conference.

OUTLOOK: Every year we have questions about the Pittsburgh Panthers and each year they seem to get the job done of late. This year is no different as Pitt will look much different from the teams of the last couple years with a more athletic make-up to the roster. However, they still have some muscle and beef down low and could become one of the more versatile teams in the conference. However, much of the talent is unproven at the Big East level in terms of consistent roles, aside from Krauser, and how quickly, or even if, the key players around him step up to consistent Big East level performers will tell the tale of the Pittsburgh season. My initial feeling on the 2005-2006 Panther team is they are a middle of the pack group that will be fighting on the NCAA bubble all season. One hot streak or cold streak could determine their fate. As of know, too many other teams have less questions potentially ahead of them to move them up any higher, but, some of their questions could be answered early on. Pittsburgh is a very interesting team to keep an eye on this season.


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