Taking a look at future rosters
By Chris Dokish
While nobody can predict the future, it is something that the staff must do to see potential weaknesses they need to strengthen. With that in mind, let's look at the near future to see where things stand with the program. All class designations are for the particular season being analyzed.
Guard- Jamie Dixon and his staff desperately wanted Travon Woodall to take the PG job this season so that Ashton Gibbs wouldn't have to. Unfortunately Woodall failed to hold on to the job and the staff was finally forced to abruptly make the change to Gibbs. Much to their surprise, Gibbs has handled the point in excellent fashion while not only holding on to his offensive production, but also exceeding it thus far. Still, though, it's hard on Gibbs to be both the orchestrator and the main offensive threat. For that reason, they hope that Gibbs (Jr.) can play more off the ball next season. For that to happen, Woodall (So.) and/or Isaiah Epps (Fr.) will need to be able to play significant minutes at the position next season. I've been told that all three are expected to see minutes at the point, but whether Woodall or Epps can play well enough to let Gibbs spend a lot of time at SG will be one of the major questions of the season. Woodall has elite speed and has had some nice moments, but some nice moments are not enough in the Big East. He will have to make major improvement if he wants to continue to see the floor because Epps is a talented player who the staff expects will be at least a solid contributor as a freshman.
At the other guard spot, if Gibbs is not playing the point, he will obviously be positioned here. The fact that he has made such huge strides so quickly is a huge event for the program. Don't forget that he was almost an afterthought as a recruit, and the staff actually had to get Woodall's blessing to bring Gibbs in. It was Woodall who they thought was going to be making a major contribution by this point. To Gibbs' credit he has turned himself into a legitimate all-conference player in just his second season. To say he is a pleasant surprise is an understatement, especially since he has proven that he is more than just a standstill shooter.
When Gibbs is at the point, look for Brad Wanamaker (Sr.) to play the two. A stat stuffer who lacks consistency, Wanamaker will be asked to get himself under control on a regular basis and end his career with a good season. Gibbs, Wanamaker, and Epps will definitely see time, as will Woodall if he comes around. If he doesn't, look for Gibbs and Epps to man the point with Wanamaker and Cameron Wright (Fr.) manning the SG position. More likely, however, Wright will not see many minutes in his freshman season, though with his great length and athleticism, his future looks good.
Small Forward- This is a position that has endless possibilities with Gilbert Brown (Sr.), Nasir Robinson (Jr.), Lamar Patterson (redshirt Fr. or So.), and possibly elite prospect J.J. Moore (Fr.) Ideally, Brown would be the best option, but that depends on whether, one, he finally reaches his potential, and, two, he doesn't have to play at PF again. Even if he does play some, or a lot, at the four, the battle for the minutes at three should be interesting. Moore is by far the most talented of the candidates, but even if he is eligible (a big if), he is still raw enough, especially on the defensive side, to prevent Dixon from starting him. And Robinson has proven what most always knew about him, and that was that while he is somebody that can help, the more minutes he gets, the more his weaknesses are exposed. That would leave Patterson who may be able to get redshirted in the off season. He doesn't do anything great, but he has the potential to do everything good. For that reason, he may end up being the starter if Brown isn't, or if Brown fails or doesn't come back for a fifth season.
Power Forward- This position was obviously a problem this year with Brown currently getting the most minutes there. He may be forced to start again next season as Dante Taylor will again spend most of his time at center, Robinson being wildly over matched at times, and with Talib Zanna (redshirt Fr.) and Dwight Miller (So.) being long shots to be able to play a lot of effective minutes at this stage. Zanna is looked at exclusively as a four for the program, and they think he will be good, but he is raw enough that expecting a lot next season is considered a long shot. And Miller has progressed so little in two years that he may not even find himself in the program next season. So it looks like there is no choice but to have Brown the starter again at the four and I'm not even 100% sure he will be back next season. Don't forget that as a redshirt, Pitt does not have to ask him to come back, so the rest of this season could be seen as a test. It does help, of course, that there may be no better options at the four.
Center- The reason Brown will have to start at PF and Taylor (So.)stays at center, much to the fan's chagrin, is that Taylor will still be needed at the five. Gary McGhee (Sr.) and J.J. Richardson (So.) are the only other centers in the program but even combined they will not provide enough production. But I also got word that Taylor will probably see time at the four next season so that he could possibly someday move to that position. But he won't be doing that until a better center is found and that player is not even on the horizon yet. Even if the program adds Maurice Walker he will not be able to provide enough to let Taylor play more than a few minutes at four.
Summary: Best guess as of now, and this is only a current guess that could change wildly by next November, is that Gibbs will start at the point, Wanamaker at the two, Patterson at the three, Brown at the four, and Taylor at the five. The top five reserves would be Epps, Woodall, McGhee, Robinson, and Moore, if he is eligible, and either Richardson or Zanna if he is not.
It's way too early to go into as much detail for this season, but by this time I see Epps (So.) starting at the point, Gibbs (Sr.) at the two, Moore (Fr. or So.) if he is a soph, Patterson (redshirt So. or Jr.) otherwise , at the three, Zanna (So.) at the four, and Taylor (Jr.) at the five.
In this scenario, the perimeter looks strong, especially since at least Wright (So.) and John Johnson (Fr.) will be very talent reserves. In the low post, the key will be Zanna who would be in his third season in the program and will be expected to finally make a strong contribution. The only difference in the low post would be if the program finds a player such as Maurice Walker who could be ready as a So. to take over the five, or if they find a true freshman or JC star to take over the five immediately in this season. Both of those seems like long shots at the time, at least until it's known if Walker actually signs this year. If he does, and gets in shape, then he could start at the five with Taylor moving to four if Zanna is not ready.
Yet to be seen is what other players will be added to this analysis. If Moore is eligible for 2010, then somebody will have to leave to make room for him. In that scenario, the Panthers will then add two more players to the 2011 class. If he is not eligible then the Panthers will have just one more player to add with Moore moving to the 2011 class.