For a University of Pittsburgh team that underachieved last year, fans’ expectations seem to be pretty high.
Simply scan the Panther247 message board and you’ll see positive posts. For example after Pitt beat Hawaii-Hilo we saw posts that proclaimed James Robinson will be the best point guard of the Howland-Dixon era and that ”we could be really happy this year.”
The team will lose two of its top three scorers, Ashton Gibbs (14.6pts/game) and Nasir Robinson (10.6pts/game) and its top rebounder, Robinson (6.5rbs/game) when they tip off Friday night against Mount St. Mary’s. So why the positive outlook?
Enter Steve Adams and James Robinson, two highly rated recruits that will start from the very beginning. I’m not going to rehash Adams and Robinson’s high school/prep school careers, we have all read them. We know that Adams is projected as a lottery pick in some NBA mock drafts. What we should be looking at is that Head Coach Jamie Dixon is high on them. Dixon starting two freshmen at the beginning of the year should tell you exactly how he feels about them as players, and also how he feels about some of his bench players.
Adams will start at the center position, pushing senior Dante Taylor to a reserve role. Taylor averaged just less than six points and five rebounds a game, which is fine as a reserve, but Pitt needs more. Dixon has played younger players, but rarely have they beaten out upperclassman this early in their time at Pitt. Adams will be counted on for more.
Robinson will start at point guard, according to published reports. That means Tray Woodall will move to the shooting guard position, along with his 12 points/game and 6 assists/game. Robinson has flown under the radar because Adams is getting most of the attention, but make no mistake, Robinson is a big time recruit. In addition to being a great passer, he’s noted as a top-notch defender, which is why he’s going to be on the court at the start of the first game.
Pitt struggled offensively last year, averaging less than 70 points/game. The Panthers will have potential scorers coming off the bench in JJ Moore and transfer Trey Zeigler. Moore averaged 7.5pts/game in a similar role last year and Zeigler averaged almost 16pts/game as a starter for Central Michigan University last year. So if Pitt needs points during a game, they have options aside from the previously mentioned starters along with Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.
Pitt has more depth this year than last, evidenced by the potential red shirt of center Malcolm Gilbert, which should help on both sides of the court. Aside from Moore, Zeigler and Taylor coming off the bench, Pitt also will have last season part-time starters John Johnson and Cameron Wright coming off the bench. Skilled RS freshman Durand Johnson will make his debut and his length could help him contribute at multiple positions.