Editor's Note: The BIG EAST will be previewing both the men's and women's team from each BIG EAST member each weekday from October 22 to November 9 in advance of the 2012-13 season. Use hashtag #BECountdown to join the conversation on Twitter.
Pittsburgh Panthers Men's Basketball
The Big Picture:
The Panthers’ long streak of NCAA excellence finally ended last season. Pitt had earned 10 straight NCAA Championship invitations, which included five Sweet 16 appearances and one trip to the Elite Eight. The Panthers had won six BIG EAST titles. Their overall record last season was a respectable 22-17, but coach Jamie Dixon’s squad finished only 5-13 in league play. The season ended with a CBI title, but the Panthers are accustomed to NCAA trips. This year, the Panthers have to replace two veteran starters, but seem to be well equipped to bounce back into a contender’s role.
Five of the top seven scorers return. Point guard Tray Woodall averaged 11.7 points and 6.1 assists, which would have ranked him third on the BIG EAST leaderboard if had he played enough games to qualify. Woodall missed 11 games with groin and abdominal injuries. The Panthers lost seven in a row during Woodall’s absence. Forward Lamar Patterson averaged 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists, but came on strong in the postseason. The 6-foot-5 junior averaged 13.3 points in his final six games and was named MVP of the CBI. Forward Talib Zanna also finished well, averaging 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in his final six contests. Dante Taylor averaged 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds while seeing time at power forward and center. Junior forward J.J. Moore (7.5) figures to continue to provide some scoring punch off the bench. Backcourt reserves Cameron Wright (2.2) and John Johnson (4.2) are back.
Guard Ashton Gibbs was an excellent four-year performer who will be missed. One of the better outside shooters in the history of the BIG EAST, Gibbs averaged 14.6 points last year and made 42.5 percent from 3-point range in BIG EAST games during his career. Rugged forward Nasir Robinson averaged 10.6 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds while starting every game.
The Panthers usually put an experienced team on the floor, but they were younger than usual last year. The injury to Woodall seemed to derail the season for a while, though Dixon found a rotation that sparked success in the postseason. Two newcomers are expected to make strong pushes for starting roles this year. Six-foot-5 junior transfer Trey Ziegler is eligible immediately. Ziegler scored 1,011 career points and owned a 16.0 ppg scoring mark at Central Michigan. Steven Adams, a 7-foot freshman center from New Zealand, is considered one of the nation’s top high school recruits and is expected to make a strong bid to start. Pitt’s 129-57 BIG EAST mark over the last 11 seasons is still tops in the league. The Panthers want to return to that level of excellence.