Friday, November 14, 2008

Impressions From Pitt-Fairleigh Dickinson

The Pitt Panthers began their march toward defending their Big East title this evening (even though this game had nothing to do with how they will be seeded come Big East tourney time) and the school noted this championship in a very high-profile and pride-inducing manner by way of a nice little banner-raising ceremony prior to the game. Each of the players from last season's squad were publicly announced, the scores of the games were announced, and then, with the lights out and a single spotlight on, the championship banner was slowly raised to the rafters at the Pete.

Anywho... here are some impressions formulated from my spot amidst the inmates at the Oakland Zoo:

First of all, DeJuan Blair looked like an absolute BEAST out there on the court. Blair was a scoring machine, was the ultimate windex man (cleaning the glass), and had his usual surprisingly adept quick hands in scraping up a few steals with a double-double and a pair of steals. I think Blair could be poised for an even bigger season than originally thought. He was a court leader out there too, an even bigger surprise to me, given the seniority of the team's other stars.

The team's other pre-season star, Sam Young, looked like he was a little bit of adjustment issues from his new spot at the 3. He took a few early 3's and clanked each one and ended the game at an 0 for 4 clip from downtown. He also didn't spend enough time early on fighting his man inside on the offensive zone, and if you had seen the guy that was attempting to guard our beloved 2-3, you would have seen just how easily Young could have dominated this guy. And like I said, while his opposing 3 wasn't anything special, Sammy did show that he is capable of guarding a typical 3 on the perimeter as well as absolutely obliteratiing him if he dared try to head inside. Playing outside also didn't really prevent his typical inside presence defensively. He only pulled in 3 boards but he was in on several others and helped out countless times. I do think that we could see him hit some dry spells early on if he continues to play on the perimeter too much, as that long range tre definitely could use some work. It will be very interesting to see how this work-in-progress continues as the season goes along.

Levance Fields surprised just about everyone in the house when it was announced during the pregame intros that he was going to be in the starting lineup. I was pretty skeptical of this decision by Jamie Dixon to allow our hobbled point man to play, but Fields showed absolutely no ill effects from the foot injury and looked like his usual warrior self at the point, playing typically selfless and smart ball with 8 helpers and pouring in a somewhat unusually high 15 points, including an impressive 5 for 5 from the charity stripe.

Tyrell Biggs looked like every bit the role player I expected him to be. That may not sound like a compliment, but it actually is. This squad doesn't need anyone to carry the scoring load, unlike past Pitt squads that had 5 guys averaging double digits. With Young and Blair both likely to go over 15 a game most nights, Fields likely to get double digits, and an incredibly deep bench, they need guys like Biggs who are happy to play 25-30 minutes and only grab a handful of shots while grabbing some serious rebounds and playing really tough D on the opposing team's 4 and 5's.

The new guys made some interesting first impressions. For all the impressive numbers and efforts put up by Ashton Gibbs in the 2 pre-season games, Travon Woodall looked like the better of the two to me tonight. Woodall had 5 assists and very rarely looked for his own shot, whereas Gibbs appeared a bit more selfish, though it may have been because he played some serious garbage minutes, but he had just 1 assist to go with a turnover. Nasir Robinson showed the impressive athleticism that made him the most heralded recruit on the roster, but he looks pretty raw to me. He reminds me a bit of Gilbert Brown with less polish. I think his minutes may be hard to come by after Brown returns unless he shows more polish as the season goes along. Lastly, Jermaine Dixon did a solid job from his starting spot at the 2, but if Gil Brown comes back healthy, I think he eventually takes that job from Jermaine. Dixon looked solid out there, and it's still early to really get a good handle on what kind of player he could be, but you can tell immediately he isn't in the same ballpark as Gilbert in the athleticism department. He looked like he had the smarts for the job though, and my bet for now will be a platoon situation at the 2.

As for the others, well Gary McGhee was clumsy, Brad Wanamaker disappeared for a while and still doesn't impress me much and I think will fall down toward the bottom of the depth chart, and Dwight Miller didn't play and is likely headed for a redshirt.

One final note before I go, I was certainly concerned with the lack of 3 point shooters on the roster. Levance and Ashton Gibbs both were productive from beyond the arc, a fact I neglected when I discussed Ashton earlier, and a fact that could make a difference in his playing time if he keeps this up. Sammy struggled, and Jermaine Dixon was a mildly alarming 0 for 3 from out there, as well. Travon Woodall was the only other Panther to attempt a bomb, and was 1 for 2 for the day.

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