*College basketball is here (unlike the NBA), and this year might be one of the best in recent memory. The powerhouse is back, while the Cinderellas believe. That’s a deadly combination. We know some of y’all have been asking for some previews. We have you covered – the top 16 teams in the nation will be previewed individually in the next few weeks. After we broke down Baylor earlier this morning, we’ll keep this going with No. 11-ranked Pittsburgh (ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll).*
Basketball fans have been complaining about the NBA lockout non-stop. Yet, they do not even realize that college basketball season is right around the corner. This year, there are teams stacked with talent unlike anything we’ve seen in the last few years. Guys like Harrison Barners, Jared Sullinger, and Perry Jones all decided to return to school to avoid the lockout. So now we are choosing to avoid the lockout and focus on previewing the college basketball season. Today’s preview: the Pittsburg Panthers.
While their star player Ashton Gibbs may be the favorite to win the Big East Player of the Year award, he certainly is not the ideal college basketball guard when it comes to athleticism. The rest of the Panthers’ squad, however, is quite opposite. If you look at their frontline, they can hang defensively with any frontline in college basketball. Shoot, they can probably dominate most frontlines in college basketball. They have two former McDonald’s All-Americans in Dante Taylor and Khem Birch, both of whom have potential to make a serious impact this year. And then they have Talib Zanna, the 6-9 athletic freak from Nigeria, who came out of nowhere last year with a great start to the season before getting hurt. They are one of the more athletic teams in the Big East. That’s an accomplishment that means a lot too.
Ashton Gibbs is considered one of the best shooters in the nation. The only issue is that he seems to be one of the only pure scorers on the team. We could see them relying on Gibbs like Connecticut relied on Kemba Walker last year. Losing Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown will hurt, but at least they have an adequate replacement at the point guard position in Travon Woodall. They are going to need either Lamar Patterson or J.J Moore to step up and relieve Gibbs of his scoring duties. Otherwise they will need to feed it down low, which could be an ugly proposition.
Without Gary McGhee, Wanamaker and Brown, this team will have a new feel to it. They will go through growing pains at the start of the season. They have guys, however, that are ready to step up. Nasir Robinson will fill the gap that McGhee left in the rebounding department. Woodall has proven that his ability to distribute the ball is where it needs to be. The only issue now is for the underclassmen to find their roles. We do not know who will emerge as the secondary perimeter scorer or premier frontcourt scorer yet. Competition for spots is not always a bad thing.
Dante Taylor has been a huge disappointment in his last two seasons. There were whispers about him becoming the next DeJuan Blair before he even had one foot on campus. Needless to say, he has not reached expectations. This year is the year for him to break out. He is surrounded by good players. He is healthy. He has the ideal, Big East power forward body. Now it’s time for him to put it all together. Pitt needs a low post threat to catapult them into the elite in college basketball this year. Nasir Robinson is a solid player at the power forward position, but a boost from Taylor would make a huge difference.
Pitt has what it takes to be a top-5 team in college basketball. Their current No. 11 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll seems to be a bit low considering they had the best record in the Big East last year and they have their best player coming back. That just shows that the rest of the nation doesn’t trust their underclassmen. The talent is there and Jamie Dixon is known to get the most out of his teams. Believe it or not, Pitt is flat out underrated.