After two exhibition games and 20 practices, Pitt officially starts the year's basketball season on Friday at 6 p.m. with a non-conference game against Mt. St. Mary's at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers hope to improve in their poor 5-13 Big East record last season. They did win the post-season CBI Tournament to end the year.
Travon Woodall is looking forward to the season
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon has been shuffling his lineups and rotations throughout the exhibition and practice sessions in preparation for the upcoming season. He has not found a solution yet, but the season has not even started yet, and also, he has the luxury of more depth and talent than he had last year.
Mt. St. Mary's is coming off an 8-21 season including 6-12 in the NEC Conference. The Mount has a new head coach this year, Jamion Christian, which Dixon pointed out as a challenge due to not knowing what to expect from them once they hit the floor.
"We don't know a lot about Mt. St. Mary's because they have a new coach. Some of their players are returning but we really haven’t done a lot of stuff to prepare yet," Dixon said. "We're ready for Friday. I thought we made big strides in our last [exhibition] game."
In the last two exhibition games, freshman point guard James Robinson has started at the shooting guard position for a few reasons. It allows Robinson to get some valuable experience and it provides Pitt's floor game with two point guards at the same time.
Most-importantly, Dixon has been stressing defense, especially after last year's meltdown. Starting Robinson at the shooting guard has been forcing other players in practice to stress defense in order to break into the lineup.
"I don’t anticipate the starting lineup the same as it is now (with James Robinson at starting shooting guard)," Dixon said. "We just have to keep everybody sustaining the effort. I hope some guys make some strides in improving."
Starting point guard Travon Woodall is looking forward to this season after sitting out half of last year with an injury.
"Last year is last year. This year is a new year," Woodall said. "I have a bad taste in my mouth from last year because I missed so many games. I feel like I owe a lot a lot of people."
Dante Taylor is healthy entering this season
One aspect of the defense that the Panthers have focused on this preseason has been pressuring the ball more and double-teaming on the baseline. Woodall is looking forward to playing the up-tempo game on defense this season.
"We want to get out there and pressure the ball a little more this year. Playing [smothering defense] is definitely a product of our depth because we have a lot of guys capable of pressuring the ball," Woodall said. "I really like the guars pressuring the ball. [Guard] John Johnson is one guy in particular, there's James [Robinson] and myself. We also have 'bigs' that can pressure the ball."
One 'big' looking forward to this season is senior Dante Taylor. After battling injuries throughout his career, he is entering this season as healthy as he has been at Pitt.
"It’s a whole different year. We're not worried about last year. I just want to leave with no regrets, I want to have a great senior season and finish out strong, especially my last year here and our last year in the Big East," Taylor said. "Time definitely flew by. It seems like we just won the CBI a few weeks ago. This is the first year I can say I'm coming in fully healthy, so I'm definitely looking forward to this season."
He is also looking forward to pressuring the ball more on defense.
"I love trying to force more steals on defense. We take pride on our defense," Taylor said. "We're working on trapping when the ball comes into the post. We're pressuring the ball more from the one [point guard] all the way down to the five [center]."
Friday night's basketball game is actually the first game of a Pitt Sports double-header with tip-off at 6 p.m. and the football team playing at Connecticut at 8 p.m. Dixon is looking forward to the action-packed night.
"Friday night will be a little bit unique. That's why the 6 o'clock start," Dixon said. "We scheduled [the basketball game] well in advance, because football is usually played on Saturday. That’s not the case here, so hopefully we can get two wins between the two of us and go forward."