What To Look For As Pitt Opens Big East Play

Pitt is 12-1 and ranked No. 6 in the country. Those are great things to have entering conference play, yet the Panthers still have some options and some things to figure out.

But, they're all good things. It's more of a question on if Jamie Dixon will continue to use the same rotations in Big East play as he did in the first 13 non-conference games. If he does, will certain players get more minutes than others?

How Long Will This Rotation Keep Up?
Gary McGhee and Talib Zanna are still in the lineup, but in recent games the person that has come off the bench in their place--Dante Taylor for McGhee, and Nasir Robinson for Zanna have been more productive. One's a senior, and the other a freshman looking to get in his groove. Over the years, Jamie Dixon has stuck with the senior in the lineup. This year, he has an older player in Robinson, who is coming off the bench for the younger player. Still, at 12-1, and the fact Pitt has one of its deepest teams, don't look for Dixon to be too liberal with any lineup chances. In year's past when there's more production from the respective backup (I.e. John DeGroat - 2005, Keith Benjamin - 2008, Tyrell Biggs - 2009), Dixon has kept the older player in the lineup.

Though McGhee has three double-doubles on the season, Taylor is averaging 8.4 points and 6.0 rebounds over the last five games. McGhee is averaging 5.2 points and 7.6 rebounds over the same span. For Zanna, though he is still in the starting lineup, Robinson hasn't shown any signs of his knee slowing him up. Since making his season debut against Maryland on November 18, he did need a few games to get adjusted to the conditioning part. In the last five games, Robinson is averaging 5.6 points and 5.2 rebounds, while Zanna is averaging 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.

Does it even matter who starts? As long as Jamie Dixon is getting total production out of the four and five spots, that's really the only thing that matters. Dixon would like to see more from McGhee, and is being patient with Zanna's development. In the meanwhile, Robinson and Taylor create enough mismatch problems and have been progressing this season, that as McGhee and Zanna can do more, it will make Pitt's front court even more of a threat.

Is Gilbert Brown Going To Be That X Factor?
Pitt's system, its rotation and its depth have gotten them far over the last decade. What they haven't had is that one go-to player that can single-handedly take over a game. Pitt has seen its share of people do that to them in the NCAA Tournament over the year. Based on how Brown has played over the last five or six games--not that he's single-handedly won games for Pitt--but with a lot of other things in place, Brown could be that player to put Pitt over the top.

In the last five games, Brown has averaged 15.4 points a game--the most of any Pitt player--with 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game. His 28-point performance against Maryland Eastern Shore nine days ago--just one game--was enough to garner him Big East Player of the Week honors. With the other talent spread out throughout the conference, that's an impressive feat with just one game played in that week.

What Will Pitt Get From Its Three Guards?
Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs have been Pitt's two most consistent players all season, especially in the scoring department where Gibbs leads the Panthers with 16.5 points a game, followed by Wanamaker with 12.9 points a game. Wanamaker also leads the team in assists (5.6 per game) and steals (3.3 per game).

What's nice is the ability to have Travon Woodall out there to replace either Gibbs or Wanamaker--not just to keep them well rested, but to also keep the flow of the game going as if they were out there. At the beginning of the season, it looked like Dixon wanted Woodall to push the tempo more. We haven't seen that as much in the recent games, but Woodall continues to show what he can do as a setup man. Woodall is averaging 4.4 assists over the last five games--the most by any Pitt player over that span. With Wanamaker and Gibbs being so consistent, and the fact that both can double as passers, Woodall can fill that role as the passer when he enters the game and not so much as a scorer. At least that's what he has shown in recent games. With Gibbs and Wanamaker being consistent producer, why not let Woodall do what he can do best as an assist-man.

Has J.J. Moore moved ahead of Lamar Patterson?
Moore has had his moments in this non-conference part of the schedule. In the last two games, he's come off the bench prior to Patterson. In fact, Moore has been the next sub into the game, following Robinson, who has been Pitt's first guy off the bench. We'll have a better idea now that Big East games will start, if this trend continues. Moore is more game-ready at one of the guard spots. Patterson provides a nice luxury still, but he can also play at the four if needed--and has at certain times this year. Through 13 non-conference games, Moore has three games in double-figures. Patterson is still finding his position.

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