Pitt's final season in the Big East came to a somewhat abrupt end over the past two weeks, losing in their first conference tournament game and then in their NCAA opener. Now it's time to look forward to next season, when the Panthers make their debut in the ACC. With some key pieces returning, the Panthers have a good shot to return to the NCAA Tournament next season, where hopefully they'll have more success.
Pitt got some expected, yet great news when Steven Adams said he would return for next season. Despite putting up average numbers, his potential could warrant a first round draft pick. From the Post-Gazette:
"I'm coming back," Adams said. "I don't know why you guys keep asking that question."
He's shown flashes of his potential in his freshman season and I think he can continue to build on that next season. The Panthers will also have James Robinson, who also has shown his ability to be a leader and knock down big shots when he's needed. Now if he could just do that all the time...
Pitt does lose Dante Taylor, a serviceable big man who provided much needed depth in the front court, and Tray Woodall, the only semi-reliable perimeter shooter on the team. Needless to say, someone is going to have to step up and become a 3 point threat for next season. They'll also need to find someone that can step in at power forward. With Taylor gone to graduation, the Panthers are left with essentially just Adams and Talib Zanna.
Ultimately, next season really comes down to how Pitt answers those two questions. Who can hit shots from deep with consistency? Who is able to come in when Adams and/or Zanna is in foul trouble? Like teams in the past, there isn't one guy you can point to for either question. But there's promise in Cameron Wright and Durand Johnson. Wright actually had the highest field goal percentage out of Pitt's guards at 50.7% and Johnson can be accurate from 3. With a year of seasoning under their belts, they should see more playing time next season, particularly Wright who is one of Pitt's better defenders. As for the front court, ESPNU 100 recruit Mike Young will likely slide into Taylor's role on the bench and playing around 15 minutes. If he can replicate Taylor's stats (five points, 4 rebounds) and be serviceable on defense, Pitt should be fine next season.
You'll notice I didn't touch Jamie Dixon. Here's what I have to say him. Coaching staff clearly has to be shaken up - someone has to be let go. Also, could it kill him to challenge Pitt out of conference? Next year we'll have the ACC-B1G challenge and Pitt will be in the Legends Classic, but it would be nice for Pitt to have the Gonzaga or Michigan State approach to non-conference scheduling.
There's potential next season for Pitt to make some noise in the ACC. It really depends on the growth of the team in the offseason. If some players can take that next step, a Sweet 16 may be in Pitt's grasp in 2014.