Pitt Lineup Young And Inexperienced

With eight straight NCAA-Tournament appearances in the Jamie Dixon era, the Pitt men's basketball team certainly has developed a tradition of excellence, and the Panthers athletic department will celebrate that success with a pre-game ceremony honoring last season's elite performance.

Pittsburgh faces Wofford College from Spartanburg, S.C. tonight at 8:10, but fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 7:45 to watch a banner raised to honor the Panthers' trip to the NCAA's Elite Eight. It was the first such appearance for Pitt since 1974 when the tourney field was half the size.

In 2008-09, Pitt finished with a school-best 31-5 overall record, placed second in the Big East regular season with a 15-3 mark, earned the nation's No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history on two different occasions for three weeks total, concluded the year with a perfect 19-0 home record at the Petersen Events Center and secured a No. 1 seed upon entering the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program's history.

One aspect that keyed Pitt's success last season was a veteran lineup led by seniors Levance Fields, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs to go with second-year starter DeJuan Blair. All those guys are gone, however, so this year's starting five against the Terriers will be young and inexperienced.

Pitt's starting lineup, the same as it was during the team's two exhibition games due to an injury to senior guard Jermaine Dixon and suspension to redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown, includes junior center Gary McGhee, sophomore forward Nasir Robinson and three guards -- junior Bradley Wanamaker, sophomore Ashton Gibbs and redshirt freshman Travon Woodall.

"Just because we don't have any returning starters out there for the first game, that doesn't mean we can't play hard,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "(And) it doesn't mean that we can't execute and we can't defend. (But) you're as young as you play. We have no excuses.''

McGhee is the only player with starting experience, but he can count those games on one hand. Actually, he only needs one finger. McGhee opened one game for Blair when he had a swollen knee early last season. Wanamaker has the most playing experience, while Gibbs is next. Robinson saw limited action last season, while Woodall took a redshirt.

"It's going to be different, but we kind of want it that way,'' Wanamaker said. "We've been talking about how we've been waiting for this moment when we can be that guy on the college team. We can be that leader, that starting point guard, that starting shooting guard. The moment is here.''

Senior transfer Chase Adams, a guard from Centenary College in Shreveport, La., has 76 career starts. But none at this level. The past three seasons, Pitt's opening-game starters combined for 143 starts, 155 and 145. So, this certainly is virgin territory for the coaching staff.

"I don't think there's ever been a kid that has told me that he's young and inexperienced, so he's not good enough,'' Coach Dixon said. "They look at it a whole different way. It's not a crutch.''

But Pitt's chances for a ninth straight NCAA appearance could be hampered nonetheless with six freshmen, including two redshirts, among the 11 scholarship players ready for the opener. Jermaine Dixon expected to be back this week, and he's shooting jumpers on his own. But his debut was delayed.

"We're not going to rush it,'' Coach Dixon said. "There's no pain whatsoever, but we just don't feel that it's fully and completely healed.''

So, with Brown out for 11 games and Jermaine Dixon out indefinitely, possibly another week or two at most, the players available for Pitt against Wofford were responsible for only 22 percent of the team's minutes played last season, 17 percent of the points and 19 percent of the rebounds.

"I don't want it to be used as an excuse, (because) if you make excuses before you go out there, sometimes those things come to fruition,'' Coach Dixon said.

Coach Dixon used the same starting lineup in 35 of Pitt's 36 games last season. Just don't expect that to be the case this year, as Jermaine Dixon and Brown will be worked in a little bit at a time and could eventually be starters.

It's just not their time right now.

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