The fact that Pitt's basketball freshmen have been thrust into big roles isn't lost on anyone, really. But I made a point recently in the comments section of a post that felt deserved a closer look.
Jamie Dixon's hand has really been forced to not only play these guys, but to give them a significant amount of minutes. The Durand Johnson injury is a factor, but it goes a lot deeper than that. In particular, all of the recent transfers and departures have really caught up with the team. The Panthers would really look a lot different if some players decided to stick around.
It all starts with Steven Adams in the middle, obviously. His departure set off a ripple effect that has really cause the team problems up front. Because of his loss, power forward Talib Zanna has been asked to cover center. Still, Adams was a rare case and expecting him to stay as an NBA lottery pick wasn't realistic - despite what he said initially about wanting to play for four years. There were other transfers that hurt the team and forced them to look to freshmen.
Pitt also lost J.J. Moore, who transferred to Rutgers and if he were still around, there's a good chance he could have started at power forward and played a good 25 minutes a game. The loss of Moore really have meant too much time being given to the freshmen. Mike Young has been forced to not only start at power forward, but eat up about 22 minutes a game. Jamel Artis is also getting quite a bit of time with 16 minutes per contest. With Moore around, those guys would be playing maybe half of what they are now and one of them may have even been able to redshirt.
The backcourt has suffered, too. There's been the injury to Johnson, but Pitt lost John Johnson, who transferred to Penn State, and Trey Zeigler, who bolted to TCU. Johnson is averaging 7.4 points per game for the Nittany Lions getting just over 20 minutes per contest. He would be a big help right now and could really take some of the strain off of Josh Newkirk and Chris Jones, who are both getting a combined 22 minutes per game. With Johnson around, Newkirk could have also drawn a redshirt.
Altogether, Pitt's four freshmen are getting about 25% of the team's total minutes. With five players on the court at any given time, in a 40-minute game, there are a total of 200 minutes available. Young, Artis, Newkirk, and Jones are getting 47 of those.
We knew the freshmen were playing a lot, but the main point I wanted to drive home is that with even Moore and Johnson around, this team would have a significantly different look. Jones had already taken his redshirt, but as I mentioned above, Newkirk and maybe even Artis could have redshirted as well with those veterans staying in the program.
The loss of Moore is even bigger than just taking minutes away from the freshmen, in my opinion. The offense has struggled so much at times and he was a player that could come in and provide instant offense, despite the inconsistencies. He showed flashes at times and recently put up 27 points in a game against Houston. Think Pitt could use that offense right about now?
Young and Artis have been serviceable - even good at times. And this is no knock to either player ... both should be very good players for Pitt in a couple of seasons. But right now, neither is capable of producing the kind of offense that an experienced Moore could be giving this season.
When you think about the struggles the team has had recently, it's pretty frustrating to think that with a couple of older players, things might be far different. The Panthers would have had less roster spots available, obviously, but having Moore and Johnson probably just would have meant no Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo - and those guys have played sparingly, anyway.
All in all, the transfers have really played a huge part in how Pitt has had to juggle their roster and rely so much on first-year players. The team will be better for it in the future as those guys are getting a crash course in college basketball. But for this season, a couple of transfers could have made an impact on this stretch run where Pitt is struggling right now.