In case you missed it, Pitt's basketball season got underway on Friday with an 88-55 beatdown over Savannah State.
The good news? It was a comfortable win for a basketball team in a great deal of transition. I've mentioned this before but this is a very different team than last year. Steven Adams, Tray Woodall, J.J. Moore, Dante Taylor, four guys that played big minutes last year, are all gone. Also gone is Trey Zeigler and while he wasn't quite the player we hoped for last year, he definitely played a good deal as well.
That's exactly half of the entire team's rotation last season and those five guys accounted for just more than half of all of the team's scoring. Safe to say, this is a very, very different squad than last year.
That didn't bother Pitt on Friday, though, and a 33-point win was very encouraging. Savannah State isn't a major program by any stretch, but the game certainly could have been closer if Pitt hadn't shown up. The Tigers won 19 games last season and went to the NIT with 21 wins the year before.
They're regularly routed when they play major programs but have kept some games close in recent memory. In 2011-11, they lost to Dayton by only two on the road. They also lost to Cincinnati that season by a respectable 13. Two years ago they lost to Butler and Tennessee by 15 points and 14 points, respectively. I'm not saying that they should have given Pitt a thorough challenge, but I'm definitely glad to see the ease of their win.
Pitt won the game with a heavy dose of defense and rebounding - go figure. They had a +19 advantage on the boards and used a 19-2 run to start the game.
There's even more cause for optimism considering the team played without Talib Zanna, who might be their best player. Zanna was suspended for a game for disciplinary reasons and as expected, no reason was given. That opened up the door in a big way for Derrick Randall. The Rutgers transfer had career-highs in points (12) and rebounds (12) and wanted to show he has some skill:
"I just wanted to prove to everybody I could play," Randall said. "I was just doing hustle plays, doing defense, doing everything."
Jamie Dixon even seemed a little surprised at what they're getting out of him:
“He's one of our guys, no question,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He's a good rebounder, good hands, and he finishes better than probably anticipated.”
I took a look at Randall earlier this year when he came to Pitt. He didn't have to sit out this season because of the Mike Rice fiasco and it's really a good thing the Panthers have him, if only to provide much-needed depth up front. He played sparingly for a bad Rutgers team and that was some cause for concern, but had a good night on Friday. No one will confuse Savannah State for Duke, North Carolina, or even some of the ACC's bottom feeders, but it was a good start for him in his first game.
On the freshmen front, the trio of Mike Young, Josh Newkirk, and Jamel Artis all played a lot. That should continue through the preseason until Jamie Dixon figures out what he's got with them. They may not play for the nearly 70 minutes they got on Friday, but all will be a factor. Young, as expected, got the start and finished with a near double double (nine points and eight rebounds). Newkirk was second on the bench with 11 points.
Even the free throws went Pitt's way. The Panthers went to the line 38 times and made 76% of their shots.
One thing you'd like to see is the team cut back on turnovers a little bit. 16 isn't a huge number when you factor in all of the new guys, including several younger ones. But against a weaker team, that could have been tightened up a bit more. All in all, though, tough to complain.