Panthers keep in-house with Dixon

Jamie Dixon is already a hero of anonymous assistants everywhere. After serving under Ben Howland, the Panthers tabbed the unknown assistant to continue Howland's work after the former Pitt coach departed for UCLA. He responded to the school's show of faith with a 31-5 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.

"A lot of times there could be a ripple effect if there was somebody else who came in and tried to do something different. There would be head-butting. We didn't think that kind of change would be good for the program. We wanted somebody who was already here." -- Panthers forward Chevon Troutman, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the decision to name Jamie Dixon head coach before last season.

Though the record was impressive, Pitt basketball wasn't pretty. The Panthers were not a team that shone on the offensive end. In fact, it was often a team that looked like it couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. It won with defense and experience, and a lot of that experience left at the end of the season when Julius Page and Jaron Brown used up their eligibility.

The cupboard, however, is far from bare. Carl Krauser returns to run the point, a season after he filled the considerable shoes of Brandin Knight to continue the recent tradition of stellar guard play at Pittsburgh. Krauser is particularly important on the offensive end, since the team tends to struggle even more when he's out of the game or hobbled by injury or foul problems.

Big East Rookie of the Year Chris Taft anchors the middle. He's only a sophomore, but he may be NBA-bound at the end of the season if he improves as much this season as he did in the second half last year.

Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll also return for their senior seasons, meaning the Panthers will once again be among the biggest teams in college basketball.

Redshirt freshman Ed Turner elected to transfer in order to get more playing time, but some of the newcomers appear ready to step in and contribute early. If everyone adjusts to their new roles and Krauser and Taft continue to improve, this team can once again find itself atop the conference and playing deep into March.

So far, Jamie Dixon has not appeared to be a big fan of the unknown. He stuck to essentially a seven-man rotation through much of last season, and valued defensive stars over others who may have been able to contribute more on the offensive end. Defensive and rebounding has been the key.

At some point, though, Dixon will have to start recruiting players with more offensive weapons. He may have already signed one in John DeGroat, a junior college transfer who's eligible for the coming season. DeGroat is a 6-6 swingman and has a reputation as a scorer, making 44 percent of his three-point attempts last season. If he's as good as advertised, he'll play a lot right away. Fellow newcomer guard Keith Benjamin is another scorer. Benjamin is a 6-2 shooting guard who can light it up from three-point range.

If not DeGroat or Benjamin, expect someone else to crack the rotation who's an offensive threat, since it will be difficult to duplicate the team defense Pitt showed last season now that top defenders Julius Page and Jaron Brown are gone.

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