Jamie Dixon was enthusiastic about what made this past week a great week of practice. It wasn't the fact that his team gets a whole week off between games at this time of year. Dixon is quick to point out the fact that the NCAA limits the number of hours or days a team can practice. He was quicker to point out how many players he had healthy in practice on Friday.
"Actually had everybody out there (Friday)," Dixon commented. "I thought we had a very good practice. We had good intensity; as good a practice as we've had this year. We had everybody out there, and that's one of the few times we've had that this year."
When questioned which players had perfect attendance all year, Dixon cited only Durand Johnson—who's redshirting this season—and possibly J.J. Moore as the only two players that have not had to miss a practice due to some sort of injury.
A look back at the season shows no season-ending injuries. There have been enough nagging injuries throughout the season that has affected lineups and situations. It also has to put a strain on the chemistry of the team on and off the court.
Here's a look at why and how this season has been such a tough strain on the team. Whether it's the one reason for the team's disappointing season is anybody's guess. There's no question it's a factor when you consider the following:
- Nasir Robinson: Announced at the team's media day in October that he will start the season with another knee surgery, and presumably miss the first four weeks of the season. Robinson returns in time for the regular season opener on November 11 against Albany, but according to Dixon has to repeatedly get his knee drained as the season has gone along. Robinson has done some good things this year, but has only shot 40 percent or better in two of the last five games (both South Florida games).
In the first 23 games of the season, Robinson shot 50 percent or better in 18 games. Dixon talked about how Robinson's injury requires a lot of maintenance—draining the knee regularly throughout the season.
"We've never had a thing like this, with having to drain the knee," Dixon added. "His discomfort, having to go through the entire year, we've never had that. He had the same surgery last year. Nothing came about after he had the surgery. This year it just hasn't occurred that way. It's really something we haven't seen before. The amount of fluid that is drained out has our doctors shaking their head."
- Then there's the obvious one, Travon Woodall. It seemed like Pitt put it all together when Woodall returned to the lineup, as the Panthers went on a four-game winning streak with wins over Georgetown, Providence, Villanova and West Virginia. Woodall has missed 11 games this season, but has played in the last nine games. Dixon also said that Woodall battled some flu-like symptoms in the team's most recent game against South Florida. In fact, over the last week, Dixon commented that Woodall, Robinson and Ashton Gibbs have had to miss significant practice time for some type of ailment. Friday was good in the sense that everyone was ready to go.
- Gibbs is still putting up the numbers, and will finish his Pitt career in the top-10 career scorers. Gibbs, though, hasn't necessarily made the players around him better. It's hard to point the finger anywhere—either Gibbs hasn't made the players around him better, or those players haven't responded to him.
Whatever the case may be, it's hard to make a case for Gibbs earning Big East Player of the Year after being predicted to win the award at the Big East media day back in October. Despite leading the team with 15.8 points a game, Gibbs has battled some foot injuries this season. It's nothing that has held him out of a game this year, but it's another nagging injury.
- Dante Taylor has been relegated to being a sixth man this season. He suffered a back injury in practice a few weeks ago, and although it hasn't forced him to miss any games, it has slowed him down a little.
These nagging types of injuries might be the main factors as to why certain players haven't panned out as they should have this year, or why the team is sitting at 4-11 in conference play. The biggest area, evidenced by Dixon's response to having a full roster at practice this week and Lamar Patterson's view, is the rarity of just having everyone on the court for a practice. Even if a player sits out a practice here and there—it gives things a different look for the real thing in a game.
"It's been rare (to have the full team at practice) because generally, Nas(ir Robinson) hasn't been able to practice," Dixon said. "Travon, obviously hasn't been able to. Ashton has at times. Dante has missed a lot of practices too. I wouldn't know exactly the number (of full practices), but I would say it's more likely we don't have all of our guys out there—far more likely.
Patterson agreed. Though he hasn't had to sit out for any extended period of time, he too gets excited at the thought of just having everybody healthy at practice. The only way we'll truly find out is with a good performance Sunday at Louisville.
"It's always great to have the whole team," Patterson added. "When you don't have the whole team, it's hard to get the chemistry going in practice. When we have everyone going, the chemistry is flowing."