I've been waiting to write something about Pitt basketball because it's a long season and usually it's just business as usual before the start of the Big East season. But something strange has happened this season- the Panthers haven't looked particularly good. Long Beach State is an athletic and experienced team, and they have exposed a few glaring weaknesses for Jamie Dixon's team. Four starters have done well this season. Ashton Gibbs through three games is averaging 21.7 ppg and 43.3% from three point land. That's not too surprising. Three others who are doing well offensively are a little more surprising, especially Travon Woodall who is averaging 19.7 ppg, 8.0 apg, and 5.3 rpg, while shooting an amazing 62.5% from the field and 57.1% from three. Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson round out the quartet with Robinson averaging 16.3 ppg and 70% from the floor, and Patterson chipping in with 8.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 1.3 spg. Sounds promising, but then there are the problems.
1. The Panthers starting lineup consists of a pair of guards that go 5'11" and 6'2", and two 6'5" forwards, and even those numbers may be generous. Which leads to...
2. The lack of development from the big men. Former assistant Tom Herrion was known as a great big man coach, and his absence is now being felt. Dante Taylor is underachieving for a third straight year, and Talib Zanna is underachieving for the second year now. Khem Birch, who has more talent than both, is only three games into his career, but so far he has hardly played. And this is for a guy that NBA teams have already scouted and project as a first rounder. Respected NBA draft website NBAdaft.net currently has Birch as the No. 13 pick in next year's draft, but he can't get on the court at Pitt? The Panthers better get their big men developed or they can forget about any Final Four appearances in the near future.
3. Not only are the top players small, they aren't particularly athletic either. Sure, players like Gibbs, Robinson, Taylor, and Patterson are more athletic than the average young man, but in major college basketball, they are considered mediocre athletes. I've also noticed that while Cameron Wright has above the rim athleticism, he isn't particularly quick footed. Positional defense can only get you so far which explains why the Panthers defense thus far hasn't been particularly good. Woodall, who is a good athlete, was never considered a good defense player either.
4. The biggest problem of all of course if the defense, or the lack thereof. In the past two games, Rider and Long Beach State has combined to shoot 56.4% from the field in the last two games. Past Pitt defenses were usually around 40% or less. Needless to say, the defense has been a disaster.
Bottom line, this team is starting players that would be role players on most elite teams, they are too short, too slow, and can't play defense. Sounds dire, right? Then why do I expect them to again win 25 games or more? Probably because they will. Sorry, but I'm just not worried about this season. Dixon is masterful at righting the ship and to be honest he's had teams with plenty of problems before and led them to a top 10 ranking. I don't know if Pitt will end up in the top ten this year, but I have no doubt that when the season is over they will once again be successful.
Now, for the future I admit that I am getting a little more worried. Some of the reasons I expected the Panthers to be a Final Four contender next season was because I was projecting Taylor to be a good center to pair with Steven Adams, Birch to be a star, J.J. Moore to turn into a good player, and some of the younger guards develop. None of that is on the verge of happening now so until it does I'm going to be more cautious in how I project the future.