No. 4: Pittsburgh Panthers

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2009-10 record: 25-9 (13-5), tied for second in big East
Lost to Xavier in NCAA tournament second round
Coach: Jamie Dixon, 188-54, 7 years
Last NCAA miss: 2000

2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: Few teams can match Pitt’s depth and overall talent. The Panthers are once again loaded at guard – headed by Ashton Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer and Big East most improved player a year ago – and have big, steady post players. It’s a contrast to their standout 2008-09 squad that relied primarily on three players.

This year’s version could use as many as 10 players in the rotation on a regular basis and not face a talent drop-off. Pitt desperate for a Final Four. This may finally be the year Jamie Dixon delivers it.

The bad: Pitt’s famed defense hasn’t lived up to its reputation in years. To reclaim that identity, the Panthers must improve their turnover rate (among D-I’s worst in 2009-10), which starts with forcing more steals. Guards Gibbs, Travon Woodall and Brad Wanamaker have to be better on the ball or they could see their playing time diminished by freshman Isaiah Epps, who’s fast, athletic and tough.

Does Dixon risk playing a senior leader like Wanamaker or a pass-first guard like Woodall less?

The unknown: Dante Taylor. Last year’s prize freshman often looked lost and overwhelmed. The 6-9, 240-pound forward should be Pitt’s most skilled big man since DeJaun Blair (though he’ll never be a rebounder like Blair).

Center Gary McGhee (6-10, 250) can provide the muscle, but Taylor’s the missing key to the whole offense – the forward who presents matchups problems for opponents. When he hits his stride, that’s when Pitt will thrive.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.