After redshirt freshman center Austin Wallace went down a few weeks ago and senior forward Mike Cook suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 20, the Panthers -- ranked 13th now in both the Associated Press and ESPN polls -- probably would have been able to persevere.
That's because they had a leader like Levance Fields running the show. Now, Pittsburgh has to look for leadership, as well as scoring to make up for the nearly 30 points that Fields and Cook combined to score each game.
Senior Ronald Ramon will move full-time to point guard, and senior Keith Benjamin -- a better player off the bench thus far in his career -- likely will be the shooting guard. Redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown started for Cook at small forward, while freshman center DeJuan Blair and junior forward Sam Young are the other starters. Ramon has been battling shoulder problems the past two games and has made just one shot, and if his problem becomes chronic who knows what Pitt coach Jamie Dixon will do.
"It's more of a leadership thing," Ramon said. "I have to go out there and carry the team and make sure guys are in the right spots. It's being a team. We're going to be the same, smart team we've been. Nothing is going to change with us. We're going to play the same way we've been playing. We just have to go out there and execute our plays and play hard."
Ramon went through a full practice Monday without any major problems with his right (shooting) shoulder. It was dislocated early in the game Saturday at Dayton, but he returned after a brief absence.
The injury has hampered him in the past two games, as he's just 1-for-15 shooting. Against the Flyers, Ramon clanked all eight shots from the field with six coming from 3-point range. He probably would have been rested against Lafayatte tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center, but not now.
"It's painful,'' Ramon said. "I'm not going to lie about that, but I'm still going to go play. My team needs me, and I'm going to respond and go out and play as hard as I can. I need to do that for the team.''
Fields had surgery Monday, and Dixon noted that the initial prognosis is good. Pitt's floor leader is expected to return sometime late in the season, but he will be re-evaluated in a few weeks as his rehab progresses. Cook will have surgery today. With both guard spots in disarray, freshman Bradley Wanamaker will get playing time in both spots as a key backup.
"We're looking at a lot of different scenarios,'' Dixon said. "This has been a tough couple weeks, an emotional time for the team, but they've responded pretty well so far. They were out on the court early, and we started 10 minutes early because they were so anxious to get started.''
Ramon probably had the best response.
"Nobody's going to feel sorry for us in the Big East,'' Ramon said. "They're all going to come after us. That's why I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can and try to make this team go forward and put that Dayton game behind us. That's what we need to do. We can't give up now.''
Notes: Tonight's game is the last non-conference matchup. The Big East schedule begins with road games against Villanova (Saturday at noon) and South Florida (Jan. 9 at 7:30 p.m.. ... Dixon is reportedly looking into the possibility of recruiting a player or two from the football team to walk onto the basketball team because of the injury situation. The Panthers usually do that after football ends, but the situation is more critical now.
Ramon In Charge Now
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