2007-08 Pittsburgh Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #58
Conference Rank: #9 Big East
2006-07: 29-8, 12-4, 2nd (t)
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Until the Big East Tournament, Pittsburgh was 0-6 against teams ranked in the top 25. They continuously won the games they were supposed to win, but then lost to teams who were on their level. The expectations were much higher for Coach Jamie Dixon and company than a Sweet Sixteen loss. With some major departures, the expectations will be a little lower and maybe that is exactly where the Panthers need them.
Seven-footer Aaron Gray was the superstar of the team and he cannot be blamed for any underachieving that may have happened. Gray averaged a team high 13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and those numbers will not be easily replaced. However big that loss may be, the absence of his frontcourt mate Levon Kendall hurts too. The scoring numbers may not show it, but Kendall was a great rebounder and did the dirty work. Antonio Graves is the third departed starter and the 6-3 guard averaged 9.2 points, 2.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds during his senior campaign. Seldom used Doyle Hudson and Geoff Rizk will not be returning to the program next season.
So how do you replace Aaron Gray? It is not possible, but Coach Dixon has four big guys coming in to help. The most highly touted newcomer is DeJuan Blair. The athletic 6-7 power forward will use his blue collar work ethic and long wing span to help out on the glass right away. At the center spot, the experience of Cassin Diggs will give him the early lead on the starting position. At 6-10 and 270 pounds, Diggs is a big body who can score in traffic. The transfer from Cloud Community College is surprisingly nimble for his size and will at least provide another much needed big body under the basket. Incoming freshman Gary McGhee does not bring the accolades along with him like the others, but the 6-10, 245 pound center will be an asset on the defensive end. Austin Wallace headed into Pittsburgh with a lot of potential and after a redshirt season, the 6-9 center is ready to show his stuff. With a little more work on the interior scoring, Wallace could develop into a significant contributor. On the perimeter Bradley Wanamaker is expected to make an instant impact. The 6-4 shooting guard is not flashy, but he will get the job done on both ends of the floor. Darnell Dodson will score in bunchs. The 6-7 small forward is a solid shooter and can get to the basket. Redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown only saw action in three games last season due to a few injuries. The 6-6 wing is good shooter and will use his long arms to be a menace on the defensive end.
Who to Watch:
While the newcomers will be needed to fill some holes in the frontcourt, that is not the case on the perimeter. Levance Fields, Ronald Ramon, Mike Cook and Keith Benjamin return to form a talented and experienced group. Fields started all 37 games at the point and averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. Fields might not be named among the elite of the elite point guards in the nation, but he does do a solid job running the team and taking care of the ball. However, some off the court trouble may keep Fields on the sidelines for a while and that is a big blow to the team. Ramon is a terrific long range shooter. At times he can be inconsistent, but nobody can complain with his 45.1 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc. While Ramon hangs out on the perimeter, it is Cook who will get to the basket. Averaging 10.2 points per game, Cook is an effective scorer and will be asked to carry more of the load this season.
The returning frontcourt players have potential and this is the year for Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs to become major contributors. Young may hang out on the perimeter a little too much, but at 6-6 he is not really a true big man either. Still Young is a tough player and will be best utilized banging under the basket. Biggs showed that he could develop into a dependable scorer when given the opportunity and he has the versatility to fill in at multiple positions. The frontcourt needs to find some weapons and quickly. The perimeter can win some games on their own, but Young, Biggs and the newcomers will have to develop quickly if the Panthers want another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Levance Fields, Junior, Guard, 9.2 points per game
Ronald Ramon, Senior, Guard, 8.8 points per game
Mike Cook, Senior, Guard, 10.5 points per game
Sam Young, Junior, Forward, 7.2 points per game
Cassin Diggs, Junior, Center, DNP last season