Pitt lost Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Gary McGhee at the end of last season. They were three players that epitomized "Pitt Basketball" - four year players that improved immensely from their first days in Oakland until the final buzzer against Butler in the NCAA Tournament. Yet despite those losses, many expected that Pitt would still be Pitt and that the Panthers would run through the regular season, easily making the NCAA Tournament.
Yeah, so much for that.
This season has been unlike Pitt basketball seasons of recent years. The defense, a key feature of Pitt, was not up to par. Their mental toughness to win close games was not there. The offensive efficiency was missing. Turnovers were numerous. The list could go on and on.
That begs the question: What will happen to Pitt in the next few years?
Should we expect Pitt to bounce back next season? This is the first time in a decade that this program has faced this kind of adversity and uncertainty heading into an offseason. The Panthers will lose standout shooter Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson, a player who truly embodies the heart and soul of Pitt basketball. Yet I still think Pitt can show this season was an anomaly.
Robinson, despite all of his toughness, has played the wrong position. He's been at power forward when his size should have placed him at small forward. It's been clear throughout the season that Nas had a bit of trouble with taller defenders. Now, one player will have to step up to be the power forward for this team once Steven Adams comes in because Adams is solely a center. Who grabs hold of the power forward position will surely be a storyline to watch heading into next season.
Gibbs' struggles have been well-documented throughout the season. One benefit to that, though, along with the injury to Tray Woodall, is that other players gained significant playing time. Players like John Johnson, J.J. Moore, and Cameron Wright were able to see plenty of action throughout the season and hopefully that will transition into solid play next season. James Robinson, the talented point guard, will also join the backcourt next season and with Brandin Knight and Tray Woodall there to guide him, he can learn quite a bit as Pitt transitions into the ACC.
For the Panthers to bounce back, a few things have to change. This team has to get back to its trademark tough defense, execute offensively, and keep the turnovers to a minimum. The players who saw significant playing time this season also must continue their development and become role players. The guys in the post need to work on becoming consistent. We would see spurts of good play out of them, but when Pitt needed them, they usually didn't show up.
I think that next season is going to be key for this program. If Pitt struggles again, it's going to set the program back as they prepare for the ACC. Yes, the ACC recently has been the Duke and North Carolina show, but you can't expect programs like Maryland and NC State to be down for long. Florida State will be a tough out as will Virginia. And then there's Syracuse, too. Pitt needs to show improvement next season or it could get ugly in Oakland. We haven't seen Pitt in this situation before under Jamie Dixon, so it's unclear how he will change his coaching going into next season.
It's up to the current roster to get Pitt back to the level they've been at for the past decade. As fans, we're obviously disappointed with this season, but every program goes through these kinds of seasons and this year just happened to be Pitt's turn. But an NCAA berth might not elude the team again if they get back to playing Pitt basketball.