With five of their top six scorers from last season returning, Pittsburgh should not lack for scoring in 2015-16. One of those returnees is junior forward Michael Young, who averaged 13.4 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game last season with Jamel Artis (13.6 ppg) being the only Panther with a higher scoring average. However Young put forth those numbers playing out of position, as the Panthers’ lack of size led to him serving as the team’s starting center despite being 6-foot-9.
With that being the case adding size was a goal for head coach Jamie Dixon and his staff, and doing so this offseason should benefit Young. Joining the program are 7-foot junior college transfer Rozelle Nix and two graduate students in Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (from Richmond) and Rafael Maia (Brown), providing the Panthers with a noticeable (and necessary) boost in the front court.
And in a story written by John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Young noted that these additions can help the Panthers offensively as they get used to the new 30-second shot clock.
“With me going back [to the power forward spot], Jamel playing (small forward), we’ve got size at (shooting guard) — and (point guard) through (power forward) being able to handle the (ball). I don’t think the shot clock is really going to affect us,” Young said. “Me being able to get a rebound and push the ball upcourt and those guys running. Guys like Rozelle and Alonzo, they can easily get a rebound, take one dribble and make a nice outlet pass.”
Pittsburgh finished the 2014-15 season with a 19-15 overall record, going 8-10 in ACC play and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. In order to navigate what should be a deeper ACC the Panthers need to get better on the defensive glass, as they finished the season ranked tenth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
The pieces Pitt will add to their front court have the potential to help in that regard, with Maia leading the Ivy League in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and Nix pulling down 9.5 caroms per game at Pensacola State CC last season. And if the newcomers meet early expectations, that will benefit Young and his teammates as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Thanks in large part to Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna the Pittsburgh Panthers returned to the NCAA tournament in 2014 after missing out the season prior, winning 26 games and reaching the Round of 32 where they were eliminated by Florida. With those two having moved on head coach Jamie Dixon will need other options to step forward in 2014-15. James Robinson returns as the starting point guard, and shooting guard Cameron Wright will be one of the Panthers’ primary offensive weapons when he returns from his broken foot.
Another player expected to figure prominently in Pitt’s plans this season is junior Durand Johnson, who was a key reserve in 2013-14 before he was lost for the season to a torn ACL suffered in a home loss to Virginia on January 11. The annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage was held Sunday afternoon, and the exhibition was also Johnson’s first live action since suffering that injury.
Johnson played 28 minutes for the Blue team, which fell to the Gold by the final score of 56-48, accounting for seven points on 3-for-7 shooting from the field. Last season Johnson averaged 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, shooting 40.5% from the field and nearly 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’ll have more opportunities to score this season, and Johnson will need to take advantage if the Panthers are to have a successful campaign.
Johnson is just one player in a position to step forward as a result of the departures of Patterson and Zanna and the temporary loss of Wright, and Sunday afternoon two other options put together solid afternoons.
Sophomore forward Michael Young, who played well during the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas, paced the Blue team with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds. And junior center Joseph Uchebo was one of three Gold team members to score in double figures as he tallied 12 points and seven rebounds.
James Robinson led the way for the winners with 15 points and seven assists, and he didn’t commit a single turnover in 31 minutes of action.
After averaging just 4.3 points per game as a sophomore in 2012-13, guard Cameron Wright took a significant step forward for the Pittsburgh Panthers in their first season as a member of the ACC. Wright averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, giving Jamie Dixon needed perimeter production to supplement the output of seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.
With Patterson and Zanna having graduated Wright is expected to be an even more important figure for Pittsburgh this season, but according to reports the Panthers may be without the 6-foot-5 redshirt senior guard for a while.
As first reported by Eric Hagman of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and later confirmed by multiple outlets, Wright broke his left foot Thursday and underwent surgery on Friday. Wright, Pitt’s leading returning scorer, is expected to miss ten weeks as a result of the injury with the hope being that he’ll return just before Christmas according to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
With Wright out of the equation for the time being, more will be needed from junior James Robinson and sophomore Josh Newkirk. Robinson averaged 7.6 points and a team-best 4.1 assists per game last season, with Newkirk adding 4.6 points per contest off the bench. However those two won’t be the only Panthers who will need to raise their production, which would have been the case even with a healthy Wright.
Sophomore forward Michael Young, who averaged 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as a freshman, performed well during the team’s summer trip to the Bahamas and will have the opportunity to do more in 2014-15. Pitt also returns redshirt junior wing Durand Johnson, who averaged 8.8 points per game before suffering a torn ACL in a win over Wake Forest on January 11. Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter, who took classes at a junior college but did not play last season, is another available option.
As a result of Friday’s news the Panthers will look to navigate a non-conference schedule that includes a spot in the Maui Invitational and games against Indiana and Manhattan without their leading returning scorer.