(19-5, 7-4 Big East)
Head Coach Jamie Dixon (5th season)
SR G Ronald Ramon – 6-1, 185
SR G Keith Benjamin – 6-2, 190
FR G/F Gilbert Brown – 6-6, 200
JR F Sam Young – 6-6, 215
FR F DeJuan Blair – 6-7, 265
JR F Tyrell Biggs – 6-8, 240
FR C Gary McGhee – 6-10, 255
JR G Levance Fields – 5-10, 190*
* - doubtful (foot)
In their most recent game,
Yet, illustrating the tumultuous nature of their season, the Panthers fell at home to
Pitt's early-season roller coaster has been well documented. The team started out 11-0 and rose to No. 11 in the polls, while handing Duke their first loss of the season, 65-64 in overtime. However, in that game they lost Mike Cook for the season with a knee injury, and the next time out they fell to mid-major Dayton by an embarrassing 80-55 score while losing point guard Levance Fields to a fractured foot.
Things looked bleak for the Panthers then. But coach Jamie Dixon kept his team believing, and he has coaxed several players to step up to fill the void left by the two big injuries, most notably seniors Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin
Ramon had always been seen as an inconsistent player and as too poor of a distributor to be a point guard. Yet after the injury to Fields forced him into the starting lineup, Ramon began proving critic after critic wrong. He has shot incredibly well from beyond the arc – 42.3 percent in Big East games – and has been Pitt's go-to shooter in the clutch for most of this season. He hit several shots late in shot clock in Pitt's upset of GU (a game in which he shot 4-of-6 from three) and nailed the game-winning three-pointer as time expired to beat West Virginia. Ramon also shot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc against
"I think it was more the guys having confidence in my shot," Ramon said of his recent performance. "All the guys did a great job of finding open guys."
Ramon has done a great job of finding open guys as well, averaging 5.2 assists per game in conference play and sporting a 2.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has also been an 83.3 percent free-throw shooter in Big East games.
Benjamin also stepped up his game after the injuries to Cook and Fields. In the five games following Fields' injury, he averaged over 16 points per game (ppg), while twice reaching the 20-point mark. His main contributions to the offense come as a set three-point shooter and from getting out front in transition. In conference games, he is averaging 11.7 ppg and shooting over 39 percent from three-point range.
Yet despite the great contributions from Ramon and Benjamin, it has been the consistently outstanding play of Young that has been the steadying force for the Panthers.
In over 31 minutes per game, Young is averaging 17.7 ppg and 6.8 rebounds per game (rpg). He is Pitt's most complete offensive player and can make shots from inside and outside. He is shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc for the season and is very accurate on midrange shots. To complement his strong shooting, Young has a big shot fake that he uses to open up drives or draw fouls. He has attempted 116 free throws this season, the most on the team, although he is shooting only 68 percent from the line. Young is also explosive around the rim and in transition. He has provided countless highlight dunks and has also recorded 23 blocks on the season.
Freshman DeJuan Blair has also been a rock inside for the Panthers. The
"The guy has tools and he has hands,"
Blair gives tremendous effort at all times on both ends of the court. He has 94 offensive rebounds on the season, including nine against UConn. He is an aggressive defender who uses his frame well in denying the post and also forces a lot of steals – his 48 on the season leads all Pitt players. However, sometimes Blair is too aggressive and picks up unnecessary fouls trying to poke the ball from opponents.
Redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown has also seen an increased role in the offense as a result of Pitt's injury woes. Originally a reserve player, he has started every conference game and is averaging 7.5 points and 2.4 assists per contest.
Cook was once Pitt's top sub, scoring 10.4 ppg before going down against Duke, and his injury dramatically weakened their bench. Pitt is thin off the pine, but the team has a few big bodies it can use to spell Blair if and when he gets into foul trouble.
Freshman Gary McGhee is one of those bodies. He was asked to play a lot of minutes when Blair got in foul trouble against USF, and he did an admirable job of guarding Kentrel Gransberry. Junior Tyrell Biggs is probably the first post player off the bench for Pitt. Expect more contributions on the offensive end from Biggs, as he is averaging 6.2 ppg and 4.7 rpg.
Fields is the wild-card for the Panthers going into this game. Pitt's second leading scorer pre-injury, at 11.9 ppg, had originally targeted the
Overall, the Panthers run the type of offense that has been giving
Pitt likes to shoot from outside, and they are good at rotating the ball around the perimeter for a three-pointer or to open up mismatches for Blair inside. In transition they are often just as willing to pull up from three as they are to take it all the way to the basket – and they are usually just as successful in either case. And on defense, Pitt likes to dial up the pressure in the half court and grind out possessions.
The Panthers and Golden Eagles tip off Friday at 8:00 p.m. CST at the
**Jeff Wolf is a sophomore majoring in Advertising. Jeff is the Head Student Writer for MarquetteHoops.com and is also the Assistant Sports Director for Marquette Radio.