Pitt Begins Tough Stretch

A tough stretch got even tougher on Sunday when the Panthers found out they'd be without the services of Ashton Gibbs for the next week to two weeks.

You can throw out the record books when Pitt and West Virginia play. Out of 32 trips to the West Virginia University Coliseum, Pitt has only won eight times.

Pitt came away with a 79-67 win at the Coliseum two years ago, but were embarrassed last year in a 70-51 loss to the Mountaineers. In that game, both Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown were 0-for-4 from the field. Gibbs was 2-for-13, as the Panthers had just five assists all night, and were outrebounded by 14.

Before the dust even settled from a 71-59 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, the Pitt players were already poised for their trip to Morgantown.

"Last year when we went down there, we got outplayed," senior Gilbert Brown. "Several of us were shut out. It's going to be a battle, but we want to go down there and finish out strong, especially for us seniors. We know what type of team they're great off the boards and we're going to have to step up. It's going to be crazy."

Brad Wanamaker realizes the importance of this trip for his group of seniors, their last in this very important rivalry.

"It wasn't good last year when we went down there," Wanamaker said. "We got outplayed all around. We just want to go down there and finish out our senior year against them strong. We have the whole team behind us wanting to get the win as well."

Further proof that the West Virginia series has always been a tough one, is that Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon is 3-4 at Morgantown, the winningest-record of any Pitt head coach. Dixon will more than likely have his hands full when juggling the starting lineup around, at least from a minutes-standpoint. With Gibbs out, Travon Woodall (will move into the starting lineup. Woodall is the team's sixth man to begin with, and has played starter-like minutes in a three-man rotation at guard with Wanamaker and Gibbs. Heading into the season, it was one of Dixon's goals—to get starter-type play out of Woodall.

Minutes-wise, Woodall is averaging around 20.4 for the season, with Wanamaker at 28.9 and Brown at 27.2. The biggest challenge for Woodall will come from a conditioning standpoint. Can he make the jump from 20.4 minutes a game, to the equivalent of Gibbs' 31.4 minutes—which is most on the team. It's safe to say Wanamaker and Brown will hover around that 31-minute mark in Gibbs' absence. Though Pitt's losing its top scorer, because of being in such a good depth situation, they only thing they'll really need to juggle is more minutes for some of these players.

The other thing Pitt may or may not have to face is whether or not they'll get Dante Taylor back for Monday night's game. Through all this, Taylor's return to the lineup provides the most help in Gibbs' absence. Much like Woodall playing starter-like minutes in his role this season, Taylor has done the same in Pitt's frontcourt, and has a big opportunity to become an even more valuable player. With Taylor at either the four or five, you not only add more experience, but you can also allow Nasir Robinson to move up and play some of the three when Wanamaker or Brown are not in the lineup; perhaps helping them out, and giving them more rest so they don't have to play the entire 40 minutes.

Right away, Lamar Patterson will help the team after serving a one-game suspension. He will see a big jump in his role, filling in at the three when Brown or Wanamaker are not there. Of course, a lot of that hinges on whether Robinson gets slid over to the three on occasions. That doesn't happen, again, if Taylor is back for tonight's game. Patterson might also have to slide up to the two.

Dixon can still use a three-guard rotation. It will only require more minutes out of Woodall, Wanamaker and Brown, who should be up to the challenge. He also has the following substitution options; any of which we can see during this stretch:

Travon Woodall: Will start at the point. Can come back into the game at the one- or two-guard spots.

Brad Wanamaker: Will most definitely slide to the point guard position for Woodall, when Woodall goes to the bench. When he goes to the bench, he can re-enter the game at the two- or three-guard spots.

Gilbert Brown: Will immediately move to the two when Wanamaker moves to the point. When he goes to the bench, can come back as a two or three, but most likely as a three, because of the youth or other players that may stretch to be playing at the three.

Nasir Robinson: An extra option at the three, only if Dante Taylor suits up for tonight's game. It's highly unlikely Pitt would afford to have Talib Zanna and J.J. Richardson in the front court as a pair for too long. Robinson and McGhee will have to be paired up with at least one of those players at all times.

Lamar Patterson: If it's not Robinson or Wanamaker sliding over to the three, look for Patterson to get increased minutes at the three. He might help out at the two if Wanamaker or Brown needs more rest. With both players likely getting into the 30-32 minute range, Patterson playing the two at some point is not out of the realm.

J.J. Moore: Moore played eight minutes; the equivalent of Lamar Patterson's minutes on Saturday night. Both he and Patterson could play anywhere from 10-15 minutes sharing duties at the three, based on moving Brown up to the two.

Pitt's depth will get a challenge, but if the Panthers get anything during this stretch without Gibbs, it will simply be the opportunity to showcase its depth and versatility even more.

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