A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Pitt only has to replace two players, but two very big ones in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. It be be an undersized team at some spots, and there's a lack of size in some spots. There is a lot of versatility with what's coming back, making the long wait to next season all the more interesting.

No team wants to end a season on a loss. It's hard to sugarcoat the loss, even if it's to the top overall seed in this year's NCAA Tournament.

SENIOR SALUTE
* Lamar Patterson closes his Pitt career with the most games played in a career by a Panther, 148. He finished his career second in scoring behind current Pitt assistant Brandin Knight, with 1,410 points. He finished just 30 points behind Knight's total.

Talib Zanna will best be remembered for his 21-rebound performance in the ACC Tournament against North Carolina. He finishes his career as one of nine players in school history to finish with at least 800 career rebounds.

In recent recruiting classes, Pitt has signed a number of heralded big men, including Dante Taylor (2009), Khem Birch (2010) and Steven Adams (2012). Along with those four, Zanna was the least heralded coming out of high school. It's a fair argument now, that none had the impact Zanna had. Granted, Zanna spent much of his career playing out of position--a true four, playing center--making his career numbers all the more impressive.

LOOKING AHEAD
* First up, a look at the scholarship count for next year.

SENIORS (2) - Cameron Wright, Derrick Randall
JUNIORS (3) - James Robinson, Joseph Uchebo, Durand Johnson
SOPHOMORES (5) - Chris Jones, Jamel Artis, Mike Young, Josh Newkirk, Sheldon Jeter
FRESHMEN (3) - Shaquille Doorson, Ryan Luther, Tyrone Haughton

The biggest question for Pitt is going to be replacing the scoring of Patterson. It could be a bit of a transition year. However, Patterson is one example of a player who made a transition between his redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore years. In the 2010-11 season, Patterson came off the bench, averaging 2.6 points a game. Those numbers jumped to 9.6 points a game in 37 starts the following year.

Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker are a couple of other examples. Brown went from 5.4 points a game as a redshirt sophomore to 10.7 points a game the following season. Wanamaker went from 5.8 points a game to 12.3 points a game between his sophomore and junior years.

History is on Pitt's side. The question remains, who will it be? You can even make a case for Wright, who went from 4.3 points a game last year to 10.5 this year. Pitt will be counting on Wright, but the door is wide-open for someone like Newkirk or Johnson to step up in the scoring department. With more minutes available for both, both players could double their points per game average.

The bigger question, is how Jamie Dixon is going to utilize his perimeter players. One possibility is keepin Robinson and Wright at the one and two. It would seem natural to have Johnson at three. But, how do you leave Newkirk out of the equation? It might be an undersized unit, but Pitt could also have Robinson and Newkirk at the one and two, with Wright as the three. It would be a much smaller lineup, but Wright is a more natural three than he is a true shooting guard. A lot may depend on Johnson's health.

The question is, does Pitt go undersized, and let Johnson come off the bench for one of those three? Or, they go with those three and make Johnson the four? Kind of like another Sam Young--an athletic power forward, yet more athletic? Sounds like a good idea, but what happens to Young and Artis? It's going to be a tough call either way. Dixon doesn't alter his lineups too much, either. It's not as if, depending on matchups, he'd present different starting lineups. It would be fun to watch, especially watch opposing teams try to second guess Pitt's lineup.

Young and Artis got everything out of their freshmen years they possibly could. Young battled through a back injury that bothered him in the second half of the season. Yet both players seem to be stretch fours--not the rebounding type, but guys that have the size to play the position, yet not afraid to step back and try the jumpers.

Dixon tried to address size in this 2014 class. You hope that at least two of the incoming signees can get a regular spot in the rotation. Doorson is going to be a project, but Pitt can certainly use his size right away. Haughton is the bruise type that Pitt needs inside.

That leads us to Randall, who was a reserve for Zanna's center spot. Zanna was undersized as a center. Randall is 6-8, an inch smaller than Zanna. While he's a more physical player than Young or Artis, and while he might be undersized, Pitt needs his physical presence. Jeter is versatile enough to play the three or four, possibly even the five. But again, at 6-7, how muc could Jeter make up with his lack of height at the five?

Pitt certainly has a lot of questions to answer, and only replacing two players. Patterson and Zanna played integral roles in this year's team, but also for their whole careers.

It's unfair to ask anyone to fill in and replicate exactly what Patterson and Zanna did. Dixon will have to create a new identity with this team, going forward. He showed he was willing to do that in Pitt's first year in the ACC, in the case of Artis and Young. What's good about what's coming back is that there's a lot of versatility with this lineup. And while it's a less-experienced team, there's a lot of players who can play multiple positions. Dixon has his work cut out for him, but if Pitt has anything going for itself, it's a roster with a lot of versatile players. Some may be undersized at certain spots. The challenge will be finding the right mix with these versatile players, and somehow make it work. It will be an interesting offseason. It will make this summer's Pro-Am league all the more important and exciting, just getting a glimpse at where some of these players could line up at.


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