GETTING INSIDE Gilbert Brown already had an injury-plagued and star-crossed Pittsburgh career, and then he sat out the first semester on an academic suspension. Even now that he's back, he's coming off the bench and playing a new position, seeing most of his minutes at power forward.
And yet anyone who doubted the importance of Brown, or his status in the eyes of the coaching staff, needed only to watch the Panthers' 74-71 victory at Cincinnati and listen to the postgame press conference to see what kind of role Brown could enjoy.
Brown had a dominant second half against the Bearcats, scoring 13 of his career-high 17 points after intermission. Coach Jamie Dixon said that was no accident. "We ran some sets for him, and we want to use him similar to Sam (Young),'' Dixon said.
Those are big shoes to fill, considering Brown's career isn't close to Young's at this stage. But like Brown, Young was an undersized power forward for much of his career, putting up big numbers due to matchup problems he caused on the offensive end far outweighed the ability of opponents to take advantage of him in the paint at the other end of the court.
The redshirt junior isn't at that level, especially four games into his own season. However, he's a player to watch in the coming weeks. If he continues to have that kind of success in the old Young offensive role, it makes the Panthers offense a lot more dangerous than the tepid crew that took the court before the Big East season began.
--The Panthers weren't bothered by the intense Cincinnati defense, committing only seven turnovers. It's the second fewest the team has had all season; it had six against Binghamton in nonconference play.
--Dante Taylor isn't scoring a ton of points, but the freshman has been excellent at not forcing the issue. He's hitting 58 percent of his shot attempts this season and is 8-for-11 through three Big East games.
ON THE SPOT: Gary McGhee was one of the pleasant surprises for the Panthers early in the season but has been struggling over the last few weeks, particularly with his hands on offense.
With Dante Taylor growing more comfortable and Gilbert Brown looking capable of playing significant minutes at power forward, McGhee might lose his lineup spot if coach Jamie Dixon likes the combination of the natural power forward Taylor in the paint and the natural small forward Brown at power forward. That's a smaller lineup but one that can do more offensively.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think (the offense) is just getting better. We have challenged these guys to improve, and they have taken the responsibility.'' -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, on the Panthers' improved ability to score.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Pitt wasn't expected to make the NCAA Tournament when the season began, but a 3-0 start to Big East play has earned a Top 25 ranking and increased expectations. A balanced offensive attack and a strong and deep backcourt, as well as the return of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown to the lineup, has made this one of the better teams of the Big East through the first two weeks of Conference play.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Bradley Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall, G Chase Adams.
Pittsburgh 65, DePaul 52
Pittsburgh 82, Syracuse 72
Pittsburgh 74, Cincinnati 71
at Connecticut, Wednesday, Jan. 13
vs. Louisville, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Georgetown, Wednesday, Jan. 20
at Seton Hall, Sunday, Jan. 24
vs. St. John's, Thursday, Jan. 28
IN FOCUS: Pitt's guards have done well handling pressure defense this season, but nobody throws more at the opposing ballhandlers than Rick Pitino. The Louisville game will be the biggest test yet for Ashton Gibbs at the forefront of the Panthers' backcourt.
--Ashton Gibbs' school-record streak of consecutive made free throws ended when he missed one with three seconds to play in the Cincinnati game. His 46 in a row was 12 more than the previous team record.
--Jermaine Dixon did not have a fantastic offensive game against Cincinnati, going 1-for-7 from the field. However, he reached double figures for the fourth game in a row thanks to his 7-for-8 performance at the free throw line.
--Nasir Robinson continues to start at power forward, but Gilbert Brown is taking a larger role there as the season goes on. Robinson might move to a reserve role if Dixon decides to flip the versatile Brown into the starting lineup instead.