Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blair injury update

Pitt center DeJuan Blair, who missed the Panthers 74-60 win over Belmont on Tuesday because of a sore and swollen knee,  practiced today with no problems.  The 6'7" 265 pound Blair, who is averaging 17.5 ppg and 13.2 rpg, will start on Friday when the Panthers play Texas Tech in Newark, NJ.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blair injury and visits

DeJuan Blair sat out the Panthers 74-60 win over Belmont with soreness in his knee. According to sources, the pain came on suddenly hours before the game. As of now, it is believed that the injury is not serious.

Attending the game was 6'6" wing Dominic Cheek, a top 15 prospect from St. Anthony's HS in Jersey City, NJ, who is officially visiting the school for a few days. He previously cancelled his last two scheduled visits to the campus. Cheek is down to Pitt, Kansas, Villanova, Memphis, and Rutgers. Also attending the game was 6'4" SG DeAndre Kane of the Patterson School in NC, and formerly of Schenley HS in Pittsburgh. Both are 2009 prospects.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

New Q&A on Pitt basketball

By Chris Dokish

The basketball fans seem to have a lot more questions so I will once again answer some of their emails here.

Q: Does the Pitt staff think DeJuan Blair could leave for the NBA after this season? He doesn't seem ready to me.

A: Yes, there is a definite possibility that he could leave after this season. As for not being ready, most players entering the NBA draft aren't ready so I don't see why that would stop him. Hopefully he stays, though. He could go down as one of the best ever, not only at Pitt, but in the Big East.

Q: I have heard DeAndre Kane is possibly just as good as Dominic Cheek. Is that what you're hearing?

A: As far as a prospect, Kane is definitely not on the same level as Cheek. That doesn't mean he won't end up being a better college player some day. You never know how well players develop. But even though Kane is not in Cheek's league, he could still be a good college player.

Q: With Dante Taylor possibly leaving after one or two years, don't you think Pitt should be looking for another big time forward to replace him and Blair?

A: Taylor hasn't even played one game yet and people already have him being good enough to leave early for the NBA? He's a top 25 prospect, not top 5. That means he is not a surefire NBA player, let alone an early entry. Many top 25 prospects don't end up in the NBA. The last top 25 prospect Pitt had was Vonteego Cummings, a good college player, who nobody thought was going to leave early for the NBA. Now if Taylor lives up to his potential, then you could see him leave in a few years. But let's see him play first.

Q: Do you see Pitt going after the Ukranian kid from Florida?

A: I assume you mean Kyryl Natyazhko from IMG Academy in Bradenton. As for Pitt pursuing him, they are hovering around him now and could eventually pounce. Tom Herrion knows the person who brought over Natyazhko very well, but even if the Panthers decide to get heavily involved, it will be a longshot. The competition would be fierce.

Q: Where do you think Dominic Cheek, Isiah Epps, and DeAndre Kane end up?

A: Cheek- Kansas or Villanova
Epps- Maryland
Kane- Pittsburgh

Q: Do you think Pitt can be the leader for Cheek after his visit?

A: Could? Of course. Likely? Probably not.

Q: How do you think the team has performed early in the season?

A: Pretty much as expected, though I am impressed with how the big three of Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, and Levance Fields are playing right off the bat. And the staff thinks Sam Young hasn't even found his shot yet. So he's only going to get better.

I didn't think the rest of the team would be anything more than role players this year, especially the young players, and so far that has been the case, but players like Biggs and Dixon could be solid and give about 8 ppg each this year. That's enough if they do other things well and the big three stay at a top level. If Gilbert Brown comes back healthy then that would be a great addition, to say the least, and he could be starting at the two when the games get tougher. If that's the case, that's three excellent players and three solid players. The staff is hoping that Gary McGhee will be able to provide quality minutes when the conference games start. If they can get to seven productive players, then get anything from the freshmen, then they will definitely have a huge year. But my optimism is based mostly on the big three. To get past the Sweet 16, a team needs three excellent players (except for the rare Cinderella team), and if the top three for Pitt stays healthy and continues to play well, then getting past the Sweet 16 may finally be a reality. I think because of the top three, this is their best chance in a few decades.

Q: Is Gilbert Brown's injury worse than Pitt has led on and could he be gone for the year?

A: Last I heard, they were hoping he would be ready for the games in Newark, but they aren't going to rush him. They want him healthy for the end of the year.

Q: Did Pitt ever get close to landing Durand Scott?

A: I reported months ago that Scott was going to Miami, so no. They wrapped him up a long time ago and that's all I can say about that.

Q: How did the staff lose another local guy, in Tom Droney?

A: The staff would have taken Droney had he committed early on, but the more he waited, the more the staff realized they wanted more of a poing guard. Plus, like I said before, his parents feel he is a better fit at Notre Dame and they are probably right. He's a great kid, though, and I wish him luck.

Q: I love the way Nasir Robinson plays. Is there a chance that he can be a starter for the team soon?

A: It's always possible, but his lack of shooting will hurt him as far as playing starter minutes. But he's the type you need on your team and the kid is a winner who will run through a brick wall for you. He's defintiely a great addition. By the way, if you want to see Nasir before he came to Pitt, you can see him being interviewed with his friend, and then teammate, Tyreke Evans, in the documentary "Gunnin' For That No. 1 Spot". You can see the playground where Robinson learned his skills and toughness.

Q: What are your final thoughts on the four players signed early for 2009?

A: I think it's the best class in the Howland/Dixon Era, by far. I always thought of prospects in three categories- difference maker, role player, and questionable. Pitt has had only two questionable signings in recent years, that I can remember, and that was Cassin Diggs and Austin Wallace. I wrote that both were head scratchers at the time and both proved me right. A vast majority of players that Pitt gets are role players in that they all have a role and they do it well. The two players on the current team that are definite difference makers are Young and Blair, and it's no coincidence that both were top 50 prospects when they came out. They are difference makers because either can take over a game. In this class, Taylor is a difference maker and the rest right now are role players. But unlike past classes, they are role players who have a ton of upside, especially Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, who both could turn out to be difference makers someday. Both are undervalued steals, who by the end of year people will be wondering why they weren't recruited more.

Q: Is Dwight Miller going to be redshirted?

A: That's the plan.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008


by Chris Dokish

It's been almost a decade now that Pitt basketball has been a national power and that longevity near the top is showing itself on the recruiting trail where prospects no longer have memories when Pitt was not a power. In the entire Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon Era, no class has more pure ability and talent then the four member 2009 class that the Panthers just signed during the early signing period.

The main point man for the class was recruiter extraordinaire Tom Herrion, Pitt's Associate Head Coach and head coach Jamie Dixon's right hand man. Now that he is allowed to talk about each prospect, Herrion was gracious enough to tell NBE his thoughts on the newest Panthers.

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Dante Taylor, 6'9" PF, National Christian Academy (Fort Washington, MD): "Plays with tremendous energy and effort. Has developed his overall game and is able to now play both facing and with his back to the basket. A relentless and passionate rebounder on both ends. Elevated his play in the summer against elite competition. He knew for a long time he wanted to be a Panther."

Lamar Patterson, 6'4" SG/SF, St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, NJ): "A young senior and his body is beginning to take shape and develop. He is a very skilled and versatile perimeter player and will benefit greatly playing at St. Benedict's this year. An ankle injury limited his exposure this summer, but had a great Spring before the injury. He has been a great ambassador of our program having committed so early."

J.J. Richardson, 6'7" PF/SF, Missouri City (TX) HS: "Truly someone who benefited from a great summer. He caught our eye as one of the harder playing kids we saw. He has a great work ethic and it has helped him to develop and expand his entire game. He has strength and toughness and is a very competitive player. He should have a terrific senior year on one of the best teams in Texas."

Talib Zanna, 6'9" PF, Bishop McNamara HS (Forestville, MD): "He just gets better and better all the time. Did not get much exposure this summer. He was adding some classes in summer school. An excellent athlete who can run the floor effortlessly and has worked hard on his ability to face the basket. He plays in one of the best high school conferences in the country. He has a ton of potential."

What Herrion doesn't say is how hard he and the Pitt staff worked to get their best class in over a decade. Richardson, for example, is one of the biggest sleepers in the nation who was hidden on one of the most loaded high school teams in the country after moving from Ohio. But Herrion found him at an AAU tournament and was enamored with his 6'7" 235 pound size, understanding of the game, and unparalleled effort. Herrion was so enamored with Richardson that he and Dixon drove through hurricane damage in Texas to seal the deal. Richardson averaged 6 ppg and 5 rbg as a junior, but this season Richardson will be more of the focal point of the game, and his production is expected to rise sharply. The staff feels it's all about to come together for the combo forward. Richardson is also extremely mature for his age and that should benefit him greatly as he moves on to the college game.

While Richardson is similar to former Panther Chevy Troutman in the way he plays, there is no recent comparison for Taylor, who is generally considered a top 25 prospect in the class. The staff was looking at Taylor's former teammate at National Christian Academy, 7'0" center Anthony McClain, who the staff eventually decided not to pursue. McClain ended up at Cincinnati, but the staff stayed enamored with the then raw, but physically gifted Taylor. The staff, as they do so often, was ahead of the curve on Taylor. He was targeted as somebody who would explode as a player over the summer so the staff recruited him hard immediately, before other big time schools became involved. Their due diligence paid off when Taylor turned into a top 25 prospect. Herrion, ever the bulldog, never let up on Taylor, and his effort was rewarded when, citing longstanding loyalty, Taylor committed to the Panthers. Unless something drastic happens, expect Taylor to start as a freshman.

Patterson was one of the better players in Pennsylvania at J.P. McCaskey HS in Lancaster when Herrion once again became intrigued, this time by the wing's great passing, athleticism, defense, and shooting. Not long after committing to the Panthers, Patterson transferred to powerful St. Benedict's Prep in northern New Jersey. St. Benedict's, coached by Danny Hurley, is one of the best high school programs in the country, and both in practice and in games, the better competition should bring out the best in the highly undervalued Patterson. Expect him to see significant time for the Panthers as a freshman and if he develops as expected, look for him to have a good chance of starting as a sophomore. He is the full package with a very high ceiling.

Last but not least is the Nigerian born Zanna. This may prove to be very serendipitous for the Panthers staff since they were targeting other frontcourt players before landing Zanna. Zanna is another diamond in the rough due to his great length and big time mobility and agility. On the recruiting circuit, he had the reputation as an interesting prospect who could be really good if it all came together for him. On Herrion's recommendation, Dixon stopped in to watch Zanna late in the recruiting season and he came away very impressed that Zanna was progressing so quickly. There are now signs that Zanna is about to explode and is already unstoppable in early scrimmages, just recently getting 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 blocks in one game.


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Monday, November 17, 2008


November 17, 2008

by Chris Dokish

The Pittsburgh Panthers' staff has received the signatures from their entire four-member 2009 recruiting class, as well as their parents.  

Dante Taylor, a 6'9 forward ranked among the top 25 prospects in the country, 6'9" center/forward Talib Zanna,  6'4" SG/SF Lamar Patterson, and 6'7" forward J.J. Richardson all chose to sign during the early signing period which began last week.  

While the Panthers no longer have scholarships available, the staff is still trying to obtain another wing.  The most likely to get that scholarship could be 6'4" DeAndre Kane, formerly a teammate of DeJuan Blair at Schenley HS in Pittsburgh, and now at the Patterson School, a top prep school program in North Carolina.  The Pitt staff helped Kane to enroll at the school.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Panthers sign four

Today is the early signing date for the 2009 class and Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon signed all four players that he expected.   Dante Taylor, 6'9" forward from National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, MD, 6'4 wing Lamar Patterson of St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, NJ,  6'7" forward J.J. Richardson of Hightower HS in Missouri City, TX, and 6'9" Talib Zanna of Bishop McNamara HS in Forestville, MD have all signed their National Letter of Intent, but only Richardson also has the required signature of his parents.  The other three prospects will become official tomorrow when their parents sign the document.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Gilbert Brown questionable for opener

By Chris Dokish

Sophomore Gilbert Brown will not start when the Panthers begin their season on Friday, Nov. 14th against Farleigh Dickinson.  The 6'6" wing, who started 15 games last season after Mike Cook's season ending knee injury, averaged 6.5 ppg and 3.1 rpg for the 2007-08 season.  He was expected to start again this season but an injured ankle has kept him sidelined.  There is a chance, however, that Brown could play in the opener and a source at Pitt puts those chances currently at "50/50".  In Brown's absence, look for junior college transfer Jermaine Dixon to get the start.  Senior point guard Levance Fields will also not start due to an injured foot and his place will likely be taken by true freshman Ashton Gibbs. With the injuries,  the Panthers will only have two starters- senior forward Sam Young and sophomore center DeJuan Blair- who were starters last season.  

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Friday, November 07, 2008


By Chris Dokish

According to sources close to the situation, 6'6" wing Dominic Cheek of St. Anthony's HS in Jersey City, NJ, has decided to cancel his visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. The visit was originally scheduled for the weekend of October 31st and was pushed back a week. It is unknown whether he will reschedule the trip to Pitt. He is currently scheduled to visit Memphis on Nov. 14 and Rutgers on Nov. 21 and Cheek has already taken official visits to Kansas and Villanova earlier.


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November 7, 2008

Led by Lesean McCoy's 169 yards rushing and Conor Lee's five fields goals, Pittsburgh earned a huge road victory by upending Notre Dame in South Bend, 36-33. Lee was clutch all afternoon and into the early evening, hitting four of four fields goals in each overtime 'session', including a 22-yarder that followed Brandon Walker's miss in the Irish offensive series of the fourth OT to give the Panthers the win.

Pittsburgh used the win as a bounceback from their previous game, a 54-34 home loss to Rutgers. Now they need to gain some momentum again in the conference as the host Louisville this weekend. The Panthers are 6-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference. For the first time in Dave Wannstedt's four years as the Pitt head coach, the college bowls are in his site and the conference's BCS berth is a legitimate chance for his team.

Louisville on the other hand continues to struggle with inconsistency. The Cards could have put themselves into the conference mix, but a 28-21 loss to Syracuse last weekend was just another reminder of the problems the Cards have. The Orange had yet to beat a 1-A team this season, but Louisville allowed the anemic Orange to roll up over 200 yards rushing to earn their first Big East win since their upset of Louisville in September of 2007.

Victor Anderson continues to be a bright spot for the Cards as he piled up another 100-yard game last week. On the year, he is averaging over 6 yards a carry and 100 yards a game.

The NCAA Odds currently show the Panthers a 6 1/2-pt favorites on their home field. It definitely has the makings of a Pitt win as Lesean McCoy will be the best player in the game, once again, and if SU could rack up over 200 yards against the UL defense last week on the ground, expect Pitt to find success as well.

Dealing with success does seem to be something the Panthers struggle with. Home losses to Bowling Green and Rutgers offer a reminder not to go too heavy into falling for Pitt quite yet. While I fully expect the Panther ground atatck to have a lot of success and their solid defense to keep UL at bay, this does has the makings of a game Pitt allows Louisville to hang around. Once again, I think Pitt will be glad to hve Conor Lee and his foot will be the difference.


Pittsburgh 27
Louisville 24


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Thursday, November 06, 2008


By Chris Dokish

As of now, the Panthers are still looking to add a wing for '09 season, even though they currently have no available scholarships. The three targets are the same three targets that the Panthers have had for months now. Durand Scott, a 6'4" SG/SF of Rice HS in New York City, has already visited and is down to Pittsburgh, Miami, and UConn. Dominic Cheek, 6'6" SG/SF of St. Anthony's HS in Jersey City, NJ, is scheduled to visit the Panthers this weekend. He is also looking strongly at Kansas, Villanova, and Memphis. While both have made no public statements about where they are leaning, both still appear to be leaning away from Pitt, according to my sources. Scott seems to have a connection with Miami and I have been told that they are the favorite. As for Cheek, my sources tell me that Kansas, Villanova, and even Memphis may all be more likely than Pitt at this point. Of course that may change this weekend, but Pitt clearly has ground to make up.

That brings me to the the third target for the spot, the often mentioned 6'4" SG DeAndre Kane, formerly of Schenley, and now of the Patterson School in North Carolina. If Kane gets his grades in order this year, and continues to develop on the court, there is an excellent chance that he will end up with the Panthers next season. While he is not yet the caliber of Cheek or Scott, his potential is exciting.

For '10, the Panthers are looking for a point guard or combo guard with good point guard skills. That appears to eliminate 6'5" Tom Droney of Sewickley Academy, just outside of Pittsburgh. Droney does not project as a PG in Pitt's system. Droney appeared to be leaning to Pitt for a long time, but his parents seem to think he is a better fit socially at Notre Dame, and they may be right.

With Droney moving out of the picture, that means Pitt will try even harder with 6'2" Isaiah Epps of Plainfield (NJ) HS. Epps recently visited the Panthers and enjoyed his time at the school. However, Epps visited while the Panthers played their first exhibition game, against Seton Hill, and inside sources say it may be hard to convince Epps that Pitt is his choice after he saw freshmen Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs play well, and often, in the contest. Epps will likely decide between tougher competition at Pitt or become a guaranteed starter at Maryland. But Maryland head coach Gary Williams may not be back next season, so this is one that still has a lot of factors to be decided before a call can be made.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


November 5, 2008

The Big East has traditionally had New York City born and bred point guards that exude flair, toughness and clutch performances. Pittsburgh senior point guard Levance Fields brings that NYC package to the Steel City and leads the Panthers into the Big East for the 2008-2009 season.

Last year, Pittsburgh was 11-0 and flying high after a three-point shot by Fields in overtime gave the Panthers a thrilling overtime win against Duke in Madison Square Garden. However, Pitt's season would take a dramatic turn in their next outing. Already having lost Mike Cook for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the overtime period against Duke, late in the 1st half against Dayton, their next opponent, Fields stepped on the foot of a cheerleader on the baseline and broke his foot. The Pitt floor general would miss the next 12 games of the season.

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When Fields returned to the line-up for a Big East match-up with Marquette, his rust showed and the Panthers immediately dropped three straight games as they worked their leader back into the mix. Knowing the importance of having Fields healthy and intune with the club, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon stuck with his point guard despite the Panthers falling to 7-7 in the Big East and moving closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble. With fields rounding back into shape, Pitt erased all NCAA Tournament doubts by winning three of their last four games in the conference and then making the mad dash through Cincinnati and ranked Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown to claim their second-ever Big East Conference Tournament championship.

While Fields struggled a little bit with his offense in the Big East Tournament, his floor game was nearly flawless, showing his importance to his club. Anytime a point guard plays so effeciently, the NCAA basketball odds of winning skyrocket. Fields made the right decision time and time again, feeding Sam Young constantly for buckets and spotting Ronald Ramon on the perimeter for a dagger three here and there. In the four games, Fields ammassed 22 assists to just FOUR turnovers, an unbelievable ratio of 5.5:1! That is what any coach would want from his point guard. Despite the season that was up and down and marred by injury, Fields had an assist to turnover ration of better than 3:1 on the season.

As the consumate point guard, Fields probably deserves a higher ranking as you know you will have the game managed well each and every night. When he is needed to score, he has a knack of doing so, when a big shot is needed, he has shown the ability to step up and knock it down. However, the injured foot of last season has kept Fields out of practice for the majority of the fall. He is just now starting to workout fully with his team, just a week and a half before the season opens. It looks like it will be a situation to be mindful throughout the whole season and expect Pitt to proceed with caution. He will be needed in March for the Panthers to make their move. He is the most trusted leader on our list, making Levance Fields the #3 point guard in the Big East per the NBE Basketball Report.


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Saturday, November 01, 2008


November 2, 2008

Jamie Dixon and his Pittsburgh Panthers enter the 2008-2009 college basketball season with lofty expectations of a preseason top five caliber ball club. Year in and year out the Pitt program has developed in a nationally recognized club that continues to churn out successful seasons, owning a Big East conference best seven year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.

The only thing missing from their resume of the last seven seasons is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and fans, players and coaches are very anxious to breakthrough the perceived glass ceiling of their program, while national media and pundits hold off on bestowing the Panther program as a member of the elite in college basketball.

It has still been an impressive seven-year run, five of which has been led by Jamie Dixon. The Panthers have reached four Sweet 16’s, six Big East Conference Tournament Finals, winning two of them and have a winning percentage in regular season contests among the top few in the country. Will this be the season a deep run in the NCAA Tournament puts that final stamp of approval on the Pittsburgh program?

Read Rest of Team Preview...Click 'Read More' Below!!!


Through the run, started by Ben Howland, of the last seven or eight years, Pitt has never lit the world on fire on the recruiting trail. Like their consistent winning ways, Pittsburgh has consistently landed good recruiting classes with good players that are unselfish, come from winning programs and typically stay in the program and work within the system. This year, the incoming class is no different. Tough, physical G/F Nasir Robinson from (state-champion) Chester (PA) High School highlights the class. Guards Ashton Gibbs of Seton Hall Prep and Travon Woodall of St. Anthony’s and Houston forward Dwight Miller joined Robinson in the early signing period and JUCO guard Jermaine Dixon, younger brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, was a spring signing addition for the backcourt.


The Panthers lose three seniors from last year’s Big East Tournament champion club: Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin and Mike Cook. All three had made key contributions throughout their careers, although Cook’s was cut short by a knee injury in Pitt’s memorable OT victory over Duke last December in Madison Square Garden.

The other roster subtractions were big man Cassin Diggs leaving the program after an injury filled junior season, his only in the program, and Austin Wallace taking a medical hardship waiver. Wallace had undergone a series of procedures on an injured knee and is now listed as a student-manager with the program.

Net Impact:

The sweet shooting touch of Ronald Ramon is something this Pitt team, on paper, will definitely miss. Ramon was not the biggest shooting guard, nor the most athletic, but he could hit the three-point shot better than anyone else on the roster. Keith Benjamin brought experience and athleticism to the line-up. Cook was a good college player that unfortunately was denied the chance by the NCAA to finish his career on the court. It is a typical Pitt class and seems to be replaced by a group of similar players that might have some higher upside. Gibbs is a sweet-shooting guard that, like Ramon, can play the point if needed. He is a little taller than Ramon and maybe a little more athletic. Robinson seems to be built a little stronger and more athletic than Cook and Dixon seems to be a similar style player to Benjamin with maybe a little more offensive potential. Miller adds frontcourt depth, but has shown a willingness to battle inside and rebound, like a typical Pitt forward.

2008-2009 Backcourt Outlook:

In the Pittsburgh frontcourt, you start with their leader and floor general, Levance Fields. The New York City native is the heart and soul of the Pitt club and has the typical NYC toughness and flair that you so often see. Fields also represents the biggest question surrounding the Panthers as we head into the 2008-2009 season, how healthy is he?

Fields missed 12 games last season due to a broken foot. While the Panthers held their own, going 8-4 in that time frame (including 7-4 in the Big East), they were not the same club. By the time Fields rounded back into shape, his leadership and clutch play led Pittsburgh to the Big East Conference Tournament title. It is that leadership and will to succeed that Pitt will rely on this season.

However, after experiencing more pain in the injured foot, Fields underwent another surgery this past August and the rehab process was slowed by an infection in that foot. Fields is just now starting to work his way into practice as November begins and his health will be the key to the Pitt season.

Behind Fields is a pair of freshmen, Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. The feeling at Pitt is Woodall is the heir apparent to Fields and the preferred growth plan is for him to spell Fields from time to time this season. The extra practice time and extended early season playing time for Fields should help his growth. Gibbs can also play some point guard, but the role he probably is best suited for is one similar to Ronald Ramon of the previous few seasons, a combo guard that is best suited as their long-range threat. If Fields misses time in the Big East, it will be a tough situation to toss a pair of freshmen into, last season a senior Ramon was able to get by, this year, I do not think they want to go that road again.

The other question that often pops up with this year’s Pittsburgh club is what they have at shooting guard? A couple of options have arisen through the summer and in the preseason. Sophomore Brad Wanamaker returns after a freshman season which he was shaky at times. Wanamaker admitted to being very nervous at times last year and it showed as often it seemed like he was thinking and not reacting. Wanamaker is a tough guard with good athleticism and could be an upper-echelon defender. With this team, that could be ideal at the two-guard if he can refine his ball-handling and decision making.

The other true two-guard option looks to be JUCO transfer Jermaine Dixon. Similar to Wanamaker, Dixon is a strong and athletic guard, more of a slasher when it comes to being a scorer than a shooter, but he has shown the ability to get hot and become a three-point threat. Dixon is a competent ball-handler as well and should be able to work his way into the mix this season in the backcourt.

At the small forward position, the Panthers have exciting sophomore Gilbert Brown. When you look at the Pitt roster and try to predict the next player to come out of nowhere and surprise the Big East, Brown is a very good candidate. Last year the 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman was a regular on the highlight reels with flying dunks or blocked shots. He is a forward who does a little bit of everything and also might be a candidate to play the two-guard this season. He has scoring tools and ability, but is not asked to carry any of the scoring load this season. Nasir Robinson, a freshman, is a tough and physical forward that could develop into a player similar to former Panther Jaron Brown. He has a power-forward’s game, but a guard’s handle and athleticism. It will be interesting to watch him develop.

2008-2009 Frontcourt Outlook:

Joining Luke Harangody as the only unanimous selections to the preseason Big East All-League 1st team by the league’s coaches was Pitt’s Sam Young. Last year’s Most Improved Player of the Big East, Young showed the promise he was touted to possess when he came to Pittsburgh as a freshman. The 6-foot-6 forward showed improvement in nearly every aspect of his game and put up over 18 points and 6 rebounds last year.

This season, Young might be playing a little more at small forward and he certainly has the athletic ability and scoring tools to do so. He will be a tough match-up for the league’s wing players as he can overpower them inside, shoot over them from the outside and take them to the basket with one of the most devastating pump fake moves you will see.

Young’s move to small forward opens the door at power forward for senior Tyrell Biggs, a 6-foot-8, 240 pounder. Biggs has the size to battle inside in the Big East, but he seems to prefer the face-up game on the offensive side. He does have a nice looking jumper for a player his size, but needs to knock it down consistently, which will open the lanes for Young to attack the basket and for the ‘big fella,’ DeJuan Blair to find room in the paint. Biggs is an excellent team defender, usually finding himself in the right place at the right time to draw charges or disrupt the opposing team’s attack.

A potential star in the Big East mans the middle for the Panthers as 6-foot-7, 270 pound DeJuan Blair can be found patrolling the paint. Blair’s 6-foot-7 height does not sound to imposing, but as a freshman, he went toe-to-toe with the biggest players in the conference and never gave an inch as he was named the co-Big East Rookie of the Year with Jonny Flynn of Syracuse. Blair has a great set of hands and is an intimidating rebounder and space eater offensively whose long arms allows him to score against bigger defenders.

Adding depth to the frontcourt is 6-foot-10 sophomore Gary McGhee and 6-foot-8 freshman Dwight Miller. McGhee saw action last year spelling Blair and will look to do so again as he continues to develop his body for better conditioning and game to be more of a threat offensively. Miller has a lot of promise as a relative newcomer to the game. Back home in Houston, he has been tutored by former NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon, so he is an intriguing player to watch in the future.

2008-2009 Team Outlook:

Pittsburgh is a team that we had slated for 2nd right up until this week, but the lingering question about the foot of Levance Fields has us going a little cautious on the Panthers. We feel Pitt will be cautious with their point guard and that is the smart thing to do. Over the last seven years, Pitt has accomplished everything there is to accomplish in the regular season and conference tournaments that they can afford to make sure Fields is at 100% when the NCAA Tournament tips off. That might mean less time on the floor in November and December, or time off if there is any dis-comfort into the conference season. Any time Fields is out of the line-up or limited, the college basketball odds of the Panthers will take a hit, but if that is what it takes for a deeper run in March, than that is what they need to do.

Still, this is a very good basketball team. Sam Young and DeJuan Blair are potential All-American candidates and there is still a tough, hard-nosed core to this team. A healthy Fields pulls the pieces together and makes this an elite contender for the 2008-2009 season that should be one to watch for as a Final Four contender.

2008-2009 Big East Prediction: 13-5


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