Pitt announced Friday night that redshirt junior Gilbert Brown, the team's most experienced player, had been suspended from the university of the fall semester. This is a big blow to the Panthers, who were counting on Brown to be the starting small forward. Brown averaged a modest 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds as a reserve last season, but his minutes and production were expected to jump big time now that Sam Young is in the NBA.
Now what for the Panthers?
I say this is a huge opportunity for Nasir Robinson, the sophomore from Chester High near Philly. I actually thought Robinson deserved more playing time last season because he made so many good things happen in his limited number of minutes. I understand why didn't play more -- Jamie Dixon had a senior-oriented team and didn't want to mess with the chemistry -- but Robinson in now way looked overwhelmed when he played as a freshman.
Dixon used him only as a power forward last season, but he said it was his hope to play Robinson at small forward in the future. Well, the future is now for Nasir. He's not similar to Brown in the way he plays, but that's OK. While Brown is a top-notch defender and good in transition, Robinson is a scrappy player with a knack for getting loose balls under the basket. And he was great at the transition game when he had opportunities last season. The biggest key for Robinson will be getting better on defense and at the foul line, where he is well below average.
I think Robinson will be just fine as Pitt's starter, but this really hurts the team depth. As I mentioned above, Brown was a really good defender. With so many young players this team is going to struggle on defense in the early going.
This also might speed up the process for some of the freshmen. Does this mean someone like JJ Richardson, who looked really good at the Greentree summer league, has to come along quicker than expected? Richardson can play both power forward and small forward. Does he play a role in the rotation as a true freshman instead of taking a redshirt?
We shall see. This development certainly makes September and October critical for the Panthers. The season opener is a little more than two months away.