Geez, the first exhibition basketball season for Pitt is on Friday. The season is almost upon us. A ton of links to start clearing out.
You know, after back-to-back trips to Birmingham for football and winning the CBI last year, the only-half-joking point was that those events should serve as an example and motivator to the teams for what not to let happen to the season (“If Pitt wins, the trophy can go right into storage. Only to be brought out as a reminder to the players at the start of next season — this is not the goal.”). Apparently, Coach Jamie Dixon did want to use the CBI experience as such a motivator:
The Panthers had only a CBI Tournament title to show for last season. A photo of the nearly empty Petersen Events Center at the first-round game against Wofford was hung in the locker room last March with a message to the players, reading, in effect: “This is what happens when you miss the NCAA Tournament.”
I just hope this means the CBI trophy is locked in some old storage closet.
Rebounding from a disappointing season for Pitt is one of the themes.
“It was embarrassing,” said junior forward Lamar Patterson.
And now it’s over.
Pitt isn’t focused on this season being one of redemption as much as transition. The Panthers are leaving the Big East for the ACC next summer and Woodall plans to leave the conference the same way he came in, with a league title.
“That’s what our goal always is,” Woodall said. “I think we’ve got the depth this year where we think we can do it.”
It’s only October, sure, but even Dixon is surprisingly optimistic. Following a season in which nothing seemed to go right and he had to scrape some nights to find 10 healthy bodies to practice, he’s eagerly accepted the job of trying to figure out how to get 15 guys on the floor.
“We’ve got good size,” Dixon said. “And we’re going to have the versatility to play a couple different ways defensively and do some things that we have in the past. We’ve got to be the best defensive team in the conference. That’s what we’ve done when we’ve won conference championships.”
While not making the top-25 of any preseason mags, there are expectations that Pitt won’t be a surprise to be in the top-25 this season.
3. Three big-time Big East clubs — Pitt, Villanova and St. John’s — all struggled mightily last season, none winning more than six conference games. Which is most likely to rebound quickly and which could take some time to regain traction?
It’s obvious Pitt is best positioned for a rebound. With big man Steven Adams, point guard James Robinson and transfer wing Trey Zeigler added, with sulky shooter Ashton Gibbs subtracted, the Panthers were close to inclusion in Sporting News’ preseason top 25.
This should be a better defensive team with Adams’ shot-blocking ability discouraging incursions to the hoop, with Robinson pushing Tray Woodall for playing time at the point. It should score better with Zeigler around to give the team the sort of versatile wing it lacked in falling to 5-13 in the Big East last year.
And this one echoes the theme of getting back to lots of winning — not to mention health and depth.
…inexperience and the health of point guard Tray Woodall resulted in a season that didn’t pan out as many expected.
But with Woodall back, the youngsters thrust into key roles last season a year older and some talented newcomers, Pittsburgh is looking to end their stay in the Big East on a high note.
“That’s what our goal always is,” Woodall, who is 100%, said at the team’s media day in regards to winning the Big East.
“I think we’ve got the depth this year where we think we can do it.”
Depth, something the Panthers sorely lacked last season, is something they have despite of the graduation of Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson.
Obviously Woodall is the key, as he missed 11 of the Panthers’ 39 games with a groin strain and an abdominal tear and was a shell of himself when on the floor.
He’ll have a new partner in the back court in Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who averaged 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season.
While Zeigler isn’t the three-point shooter that Gibbs was his ability to create off the dribble gives Pitt a dimension at the two they lacked last season, and that was most obvious when Woodall wasn’t on the floor.
Cameron Wright and John Johnson, both of whom were called upon to contribute as freshmen (Wright a redshirt) last season, will factor into the rotation as well.
Plus James Robinson to share point guard duties will make a difference in terms of the offense not getting bogged down when Woodall gets rest in the game.
Woodall is a big factor for Pitt to have a good season. As eager as so many are to have James Robinson playing point guard, Woodall was off to a great start before getting hurt. He’s one of the picks for players needed to have a bounceback year. CBSSports.com also includes Woodall in the top-50 point guards (#36).
Now that he’s recovered from off-season surgery, Woodall’s ready to go. By the way, watch the video and Woodall even makes a point to talk up James Robinson.
Even though, I have kept positing that Lamar Patterson was evolving into something of a Brad Wanamaker player last year, now that Patterson is going to be playing primarily at forward positions that description doesn’t really fit. Now, the guy everyone is comparing to Wanamaker is Trey Zeigler.
Dixon and Woodall said Zeigler reminds them of Brad Wanamaker, a former teammate of Woodall’s who helped the Panthers win the Big East Conference championship two years ago.
“He’s a really good passer and playmaker, similar to Brad in a lot of ways, his ability to get in the lane,” Dixon said. “He’s an experienced guy, and we needed to get older. Adding a guy who played a lot of minutes in college basketball was key. That’s good for him and everyone involved. He’s a good passer and an unselfish player. That’s something that will spread on a team that has always passed the ball well.”
Woodall also gave his stamp of approval.
“He’s unselfish,” Woodall said. “He’ll fit in well right away. The difference between him and [Gibbs] was Ash was a spot-up shooter. He’s more of a driver and he’s a creator. It’s always good to have someone who can create and get others open and be just as unselfish as anyone else. That will help us.”
Can’t wait for the season. More stories later.