Back at 100% for his senior season, Travon Woodall and Pitt can expect a return to top half of Big East standings. (Photo courtesy of SportsNet New York)
One day removed from taking an in-depth look at Georgetown, next up to be profiled is a team who looks to rebound from an off year in what will be their final season in the Big East.
Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Dixon's nine years with the Panthers, but that is not to say Pitt was not a competitive team during the season. In a year where the Panthers endured losing streaks of eight and five in two stretches of the season, one of which included a 62-39 defeat at the hands of Rutgers at the Petersen Center; where Pitt had been the college basketball equivalent of Hulk Hogan in the 1980s before last season, Dixon's crew salvaged what was left of the year to win seven of their final ten games, including the best-of-three CBI championship over Washington State.
This year, the Panthers prepare for their Big East swan song by bringing back point guard Travon Woodall for the whole season after the former St. Anthony's star missed a considerable part of the nonconference season due to injury. The senior averaged nearly twelve points and over six assists per game when he was on the court, and will be the face of the team now that Ashton Gibbs has graduated. Joining him in the backcourt will be Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who received a waiver to play immediately following a season where the Detroit native averaged almost sixteen points and seven rebounds per contest for the Chippewas. The junior will see more time on the wing for Dixon as Lamar Patterson will play primarily off the ball. Last season, Patterson was a pleasant surprise for the Panthers, shooting a blistering 41 percent from three-point range while also averaging over three assists per game from the small forward position. Sharpshooters J.J. Moore and John Johnson also contribute to a deep and talented Pitt backcourt that welcomes highly touted freshman James Patterson from national powerhouse DeMatha Catholic.
Up front, the Panther front line changes a bit due to the loss of Nasir Robinson, but Pitt has prepared for that with the arrival of seven-footer Steven Adams. Already the preseason Rookie of the Year pick in the Big East, the New Zealander is the biggest Pitt prospect at his position since Chris Taft and Aaron Gray, both of whom went on to play in the NBA. Dante Taylor will likely be the incumbent power forward for Dixon after starting most of the Panthers' 39 games last season, and if Talib Zanna can finally put together a consistent season after showing flashes of brilliance in each of his first two years in the Steel City, Pitt will be a legitimate Big East championship contender in their final season in the conference before departing for the ACC.
The Panthers open the season against Northeast Conference opponent Mount St. Mary's and new coach Jamion Christian on November 9th at the Petersen Center, with Tom Pecora and Fordham making their way in three days later in a preliminary round game for the Preseason NIT. Pitt will face either Robert Morris or Lehigh the following day, with Greg Kampe and Summit League program Oakland coming in on November 17th. Pittsburgh will most likely head to Madison Square Garden immediately following the Oakland game for the Preseason NIT semifinals and finals, with Howard and Detroit coming to the Petersen Center before the Panthers' annual meeting with intra-city rival Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center on December 5th. The Dukes will enter the game for the first time under the tutelage of former LIU Brooklyn head man Jim Ferry, who replaced Ron Everhart in the offseason. Pitt returns home for four more nonconference matchups before opening Big East play on New Year's Eve at home against Mick Cronin and Cincinnati.
The Panthers' first true road game comes at the RAC against Rutgers on January 5th, with a trip to the Verizon Center next up on the ledger against Georgetown three days later. Pitt then welcomes Marquette to the Petersen Center on January 12th for the first of six games that will alternate between home and road meetings for Dixon's team. After Marquette, Pitt hits the road to face Villanova at the Pavilion on January 16th before coming home for UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie three days later, only to travel to Providence on January 22nd prior to a January 26th home game versus DePaul. Pitt closes the month of January on the 28th against Rick Pitino and Louisville at the Yum! Center.
Dixon's team opens the month of February with two consecutive home games, first against Syracuse (February 2nd) before welcoming Seton Hall to the Petersen Center two days later. Road battles with Cincinnati (February 9th) and Marquette (February 16th) ensue before a February 18th home date with Notre Dame. After welcoming the Fighting Irish into the Oakland Zoo, the Panthers get six days off before a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden against St. John's on February 24th, with home matchups against USF (February 27th) and Villanova (March 3rd) serving as the precursors to Pitt's regular season and Big East finale at DePaul on March 9th.