I have been going through my inbox for the past few days since Pitt lost to Villanova. And many readers have questions concerning the Panthers and the future. Here are some of the questions and answers about the season just concluded and the prospects for next season. Also, join in on my final chat of the season Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. at post-gazette.com if there are any other questions you want answered.
Here we go…
Q: Thanks for a great season of covering Pitt, Ray. Your insight was trenchant and you called it honestly throughout. What's next year looking like? I know who returns (assuming DeJuan Blair does not) and I know about Dante Taylor, but what's the rest of the incoming class looking like? Do you see some stylistic changes in the works, especially if Dixon is not able to make an Aaron Grey out of Gary McGhee? Will we play more up-tempo and be guard driven? Would that necessarily be a bad thing? It has worked well for so many teams - teams that always give Pitt fits. Sorry for the multiple questions!
Location, Laughlin, NV
Fittipaldo: One could make the argument that the Panthers played more up-tempo this season than any other previous season under Dixon. I think the 78 points per game scoring average is a testament to that. Jamie Dixon has proven that he is quite capable of adapting to his personnel. But given the fact that younger players will be playing throughout the lineup I would doubt Dixon hands the reigns to them right way and allow them to play up-tempo as this team did.
As for the incoming class…Taylor, a power forward, is the best of the bunch. He is a McDonald’s All-American and will start next season. The coaches are high on Talib Zanna, but from what I’ve heard he is not someone who will be able to start right away unless it is out of total necessity. Patterson is a highly rated recruit who will add depth at the swing position and Richardson is someone who will add depth at the forward positions.
It will be interesting to see what happens at center because as you point out McGhee has not shown that he is capable of making the big jump that Gray did from his sophomore season to his junior season. He will be given an opportunity, and we shall see whether he is up to the challenge.
Q: Not so much a question but....I think we can all agree that this was the best Pitt team in recent memory. These players climbed a hurdle that Curtis Aiken, Charles Smith, Jerome Lane, Brian Shorter, etc, etc couldn't get past. There have been some terrific players at Pitt who never saw the Elite Eight, and never to see a No.1 ranking. I think that it's time for Blair to go to the NBA and give McGee a chance to play. If two of the four incoming freshman forwards develop, Ashton Gibbs continues to develop, Travon Woodall turns out to be a good point guard, then Pitt will rebuild/reload next year, and in 2-3 years from now, Pitt will be ready to knock on the Final Four door once again.
Fittipaldo: One could certainly make the argument that this was Pitt’s best team. It certainly accomplished more than some of those other teams that had so much talent but underachieved in the NCAA tournament. For getting to the Elite Eight, we have to give credit to this team. I like the optimism about the future, but all of those players you mentioned have some very big shoes to fill. Levance Fields was one of the best point guards in the history of the program. Sam Young and Blair will go down as all-time greats in the program’s lore as well. Quite honestly, it would be presumptuous to believe that Jamie Dixon is just going to plug players into their positions and the Panthers will be knocking on the door to the Final Four again soon. This team was a once in a generation type of team that lost Saturday night. Pitt fans ought to temper their enthusiasm for next season a bit considering the players who played their last game over the weekend and the inexperienced players who will be taking their place. Dixon will continue to produce good teams – even very good – but there is no guarantee he’ll coach another team that was as talented.
Q: Considering that Gibbs, Wanamaker, Brown, Dixon and McGhee will have another year of maturity and experience, and with the incoming recruits, can Pitt continue to compete with the upper echelon of the Big East next year?
Rick Bralich, Wexford
Fittipaldo: Assuming Blair leaves for the NBA, I am on record as saying that Pitt will remain one of the upper echelon teams in the Big East. By that, I mean the Panthers will be among the top eight or nine teams. With the talented recruits coming in, I am confident that Pitt will not drop to the levels of St. John’s or Seton Hall or South Florida in the conference, but it’s going to be tough to hang with the best teams at the top. If Pitt is an NCAA tournament bubble team next March do not be surprised. All programs go through transition periods, and Pitt has not gone through a big one for eight years now.
Q: Do you think if Blair goes pro that Pitt will give the open scholarship to Deandre Kane considering we already have Dante Taylor, and Talib Zanna coming in?
Fittipaldo: Good question, Kevin. I haven’t heard much on the Kane recruiting front lately. The incoming class is very forward-heavy, so that open scholarship likely would go to a guard. And Kane would bring a different dimension to the team. One Schenley High product moves on, another moves in…We’ll have to wait and see.
Thanks for the great job all year Ray in what was a GREAT season for PITT basketball. I have a few questions: 1. What are the chances are that Blair will declare for the NBA draft? Do you see him as a top 20 pick? 2.If Blair doesn't come back who do you think our starting line-up will consist of? 3. Without Blair, Young and Fields do you see Pitt as a NCAA or NIT team next year?
Eric Jordan, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Fittipaldo: I am not an expert on the NBA draft, but from everything I hear it is a very weak draft overall, so Blair would benefit from that as well as striking when the iron is hot (he is an All-American, so how much hotter can he get?)…The starting lineup for next season assuming Blair does not come back: Ashton Gibbs at point guard, Jermaine Dixon at shooting guard, Gilbert Brown at small forward, Dante Taylor at power forward and Dwight Miller (for lack of a better option) at center.