Well, let's just say that there's still a lot of work to do. LaSalle is not as bad as their preseason ranking of 13th (out of 14) in the A-10, but still the Panthers were a 15 point underdog over the young and inexperienced Explorers.
First let's start with the good. Welcome to the party, Khem Birch and J.J. Moore. Head coach Jamie Dixon finally saw the light and went with talent over age midway through the game, sitting Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson for the more talented Birch and Moore. Yes, both of the youngsters will make mistakes but their upside is just too much for them to be sitting on the bench.
Moore hit three three pointers on his way to 9 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. Patterson had a down game with 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 21 minutes, but if Moore continues to play this well, Pitt's small forward position will be strong with these two for the next few years.
Birch was just as impressive with 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in just 13 minutes. While he's still raw on offense and doesn't always know what he's doing, I feel he should be out there a lot more. If he got 20 minutes a game I have no doubt that he would average 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game easily. That would be a big upgrade over Zanna, who tonight had 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes and has just 9 total points in four games this season. Zanna's ineffectiveness is even harder to take since Dante Taylor, despite 11 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes, is showing no signs of becoming a star.
As for the upperclassmen, Ashton Gibbs had his second straight poor shooting night going 3-15 from the field, but his free throw shooting helped him get 14 points. The stars of the game once again were Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson. Woodall ended up with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 blocks, including a doozy at the end of the game that stopped LaSalle for good. Robinson was 8-10 from the field on his way to 17 points and 6 rebounds.
While LaSalle's 43.5% from the field is better than the past two games, the Panthers still have a way to go on defense. Pitt's rebounding edge of 42-24, though, was also a great thing to see.
Bottom line, there is still a lot of work to do if Pitt wants to be a top 10 team. Beating LaSalle by four is not a good sign for how well they will perform in Big East play. The Panthers three best players right now are Gibbs, Woodall, and Robinson, and while those three performing well can win the Panthers a lot of games, they probably aren't going to be good enough to get them deep into the NCAA tournament. That will depend on the Panthers two most physically talented players, Birch and Moore. If they can continue to improve, they may be the missing pieces to make the Panthers a Final Four contender. But there's a long way to go for that to happen. The good news is, every season the type of elite talents that makes good teams become great do just that. Time will tell if Pitt is one of them.