James Robinson, Sr.- The 6'3" point guard has been a very divisive player in his college career, and he has frustrated many Pitt fans. Sometimes the criticism has been fair and sometimes it hasn't been. But so far this season Robinson has been the player everybody expected. For the season, Robinson is averaging 10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, and 1.6 spg. Robinson's rpg has gone down from 3.6 last season, and that's a good sign that he's no longer asked to do too much. He also looks quicker and slimmer, and his defense has been even better. The best improvement of his game, however, is his shooting. For the season, he is shooting 43.3% from the field and 39.5% from three. Last season, he shot 36.7% from the field and 29.8% from three. He's also shooting 80.0% from the free throw line. And of course the best part of Robinson's game has remained extraordinarily as he has 59 assists to just 9 turnovers on the season.
Sterling Smith, Sr.- The Coppin State graduate transfer has been a huge addition this year. The starting 6'4" shooting guard has started all season and has averaged 7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 1.8 apg. He's also played good defense. But his forte is shooting, and he has really shot well so far this season. From the field he has shot 42.9% from the field, 48.6% from three, and 92.9% from the line. That's some pretty crazy shooting numbers, which includes an 0-6 outing form the field in the Western Carolina game.
Chris Jones, Jr.- The 6'6" redshirt junior has played almost 10 minutes less this season, and as usual his play has been sporadic. For the season he is averaging 7.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, and 2.0 apg. He's also shooting 44.4% from the field, 31.0% from three, and 73.9% from the line. Jones has proven once again to be a solid reserve, but still hasn't proved that he could be anything more than that.
Damon Wilson, Fr- Big things are expected from the 6'5" true freshman, and so far he has done nothing to show that those exceptions are unwarranted. Like most freshman, he's still lost at times because the game is faster than he's used to, but for the most part he has done very well. For the season he's averaging 5.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, and 1.7 apg. From the field he's shot a good 44.7% from the field and 42.9% from three, but must improve his 70.8% free throws. He's only played 12 minutes a game thus far, and with three veterans ahead of him it probably won't go up much this season, but he should be a starter next season.
Jonathan Milligan, Jr.- The 6'2" junior college guard showed big time speed early in the season, but injuries and off the court family issues caused him to fall behind in practices. For that reason- and because the Panthers already have four quality guards- he will redshirt this season. He could be a starter next season, and at the very least he will get major minutes at guard next season.
Michael Young, Jr.- The junior is listed at 6'9" and 235 pounds, and if he really is that big then he could be going to the NBA after this season. He's that good now. I have my doubts that he's that tall, though, and if he's not, his NBA draft position will probably not be good enough to leave early. The undisputed best player on the team now, Young is averaging 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 3.4 apg. His shooting has also been excellent, shooting 60.4% from the field and 86.4% from the line. Bottom line, he's now a bonafide star and if the Panthers end up having a great season he could be a legitimate All-American candidate.
Jamel Artis, Jr.- The 6'7" junior put the Panthers on his back at times the past two seasons, and in the last out of conference game of the season this season, against Western Carolina, he showed his excellence by going for 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. For the season, Artis is averaging 15.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 2.8 apg, while shooting 56.9% from the field, 43.3% from three, and 85.0% from the FT line. Other than rebounds, those stats are better than last season. And this despite playing 7 minutes a game less. Yes, sometimes he disappears for a part of the game, but when he's on no other player on the team can take over a game like him.
Sheldon Jeter, Jr.- The 6'8" redshirt junior has been very good off the bench thus far for the Panthers. On the season he is averaging 7.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg in just 16 minutes a game. He's also shooting 52.5% from the floor and 88.9% from the free throw line. His talent, length, and athleticism off the bench is a strength that most teams don't have.
Ryan Luther, So.- The 6'9" true soph was forced into action early last season, and many thought he'd end up taking a redshirt this season, but Jamie Dixon likes his defense and rebounding so he's found himself on the court again. In 11.3 minutes a game thus far Luther is contributing 4.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg. He's also shooting 57.1% from the field. He still gets overmatched at times, but he's more effective that most players that are the fifth player off the bench.
Cameron Johnson, Fr.- At a skinny 6'8", the redshirt freshman is currently the sixth- and last- man off the bench, but he still provides something in the way of his shooting, which is his forte. Averaging just 10.1 ppg this year so far, and that will likely go down in conference play, but he's added 4.6 ppg and 1.6 rpg. From the field he's shooting just 38.1% from the field, but from three he's hitting on 40.0%, and from the free throw line he's making them at a 90.0% clip. It will be interesting to see what kind of player he turns into over the next three and a half years.
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Sr.- The 6'9" graduate transfer from Richmond has been the lone disappointment so far. After getting good reviews in the preseason, he started the first five games, before losing his job. In just 12.1 minutes a game this season he's averaging 2.2 ppg and 2.7 rpg. He does have 1.2 bpg, which is impressive in just 12 minutes, but if his offense doesn't improve he won't be on the court enough to help the team defensively.
Rafael Maia, Sr.- Another 6'9" graduate transfer, the former three time Ivy League rebounding champ at Brown took over the starting position from Nelson-Ododa in the last six games, but except for a few moments, he hasn't been that much more effective. In 14.3 minutes a game, he's averaged 3.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg, while shooting 56.0% from the field and 57.1% from the line.
Rozelle Nix, Jr.- The 6'11" 300 pound junior college transfer will redshirt this season, then have two years of eligibility remaining.
With Young and Artis, Pitt has one of the best forward duos in the country, and if Robinson continues to play like he has been, he will be one of the best point guards in the country. Any team with two excellent forwards and an excellent point guard will win a lot of games.
The Panthers really have no blatant weaknesses. They can score, including from deep and at that free throw line. They are rebounding well, they are playing good defense, and they are protecting the ball. Statistically they are 15th in scoring offense, 33rd in scoring defense, 1st in FT%, 15th in FG%, 9th in assists/turnover ratio, 5th in assists, 27th in blocked shots, 19th in FG% defense, 26th in 3-point% defense, and 11th in rebound margin. The lone soft spot appears to be at center. While Nelson-Ododa and Maia are an improvement over Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo last year, they still aren't contributing much. And while they won't come across many (maybe any) front lines that are as big and as good as Purdue, you can see in that game that the Panthers have a severe disadvantage there. But, no team is perfect and the Panthers still have a lot going for them.
Overall, this team is currently 10-1. Even though the next game is the first game of the conference schedule, there's still one more non-conference game to play- against Maryland Eastern Shore. Assuming the Panthers win that game, that will make them 11-1 in non-conference play for the season. Throw in a predicted 11-7 ACC record, which is now looking very possible, as well as a 2-2 record through both the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, and we're looking at a 24-10 record for the season. That is looking like a pretty good prediction right now, and that would be a very good season.