By John Perrotto
It was finally time to get a good read on the Pitt basketball team Tuesday night after the Panthers bolted to a 4-0 start against a soft schedule.
The early verdict on a very young team that currently has no returning starters in their lineup is this after Pitt gave No. 3 Texas a pretty good battle before eventually losing 78-62 in the championship game of the xxx at Kansas City, Mo.: The Panthers aren’t one of the nation’s elite team as they have been through the better part of this decade but they still look like a team capable of getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Pitt won’t face a more talented team the rest of the season unless they run into Kansas or Michigan State in the NCAAs. The Longhorns run wave after wave of ultra-athletic guards at teams in their pressure defense and have this season’s version of DeJuan Blair in massive Dexter Pittman in the pivot.
Two of Pitt’s three starting guards handled the pressure quite well. Travon Woodall, who logged only 97 minutes last season, had just two turnovers in33 minutes. Fellow sophomore Ashton Gibbs was even better as had no turnovers in 31 minutes.
Surprisingly, it was the closest player to a veteran that the Panthers have in their current starting lineup, junior guard Brad Wannamaker, who was the most mistake-prone as he turned it over four times in 33 minutes.
The biggest problem with the Pitt guards is they couldn’t shoot straight as the three starting trio to make 10 of 39 field goal attempts for 26 percent, including a woeful 1-for-13 from three-point range for 7 percent.
That might to lead more playing time for senior guard Chase Adams, a transfer from Centenary, when Pitt hosts Youngstown State on Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers could also use senior guard Jermaine Dixon, the lone starter back from last season, even though he is more of a slasher than a shooter. Dixon is recovering from two off-season surgeries on a broken foot and likely won’t return for at least two more weeks.
The low shooting percentage is not necessarily a reason to get too alarmed. The Panthers have never emphasized outside shooting in the Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon era. They like to pound the ball into the low post and that is why Dixon had to walk out of the Sprint Center feeling good about junior center Gary McGhee.
McGhee went toe-to-tie with Pittman and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, both career highs, in just 20 minutes. That is a huge development as McGhee seldom played in his first two seasons and Pitt is banking heavily on him carrying a large portion of the scoring and rebounding load.
The pre-season magazines were unanimous in their opinion that Pitt’s streak of eight consecutive NCAA appearances is ready to end this season after suffering such heavy personnel losses.
However, the Panthers showed enough on Wednesday night to make one think are going to be better than expected.