Earlier today, Aron gave some solid thoughts as to why Pitt can survive Cameron Wright's injury. While I share some of those ideas, I also think there's a chance that the Panthers struggle badly without Wright in there - even if it's for only the non-conference part of the schedule.
The Panthers are a young, but deep team. I have no doubt that they can survive without Wright. However, I do think there's a chance that the injury could also mean that the team is hurt more than people think.
The tentative 10-week timetable means that he should return a little before Christmas, per the Post-Gazette. That assumes some time to get back up and running, I assume, since ten weeks from Friday, when Wright had the surgery, really would be the first week of December.
The biggest problem with the injury to Wright may be that the team is so young. The Panthers were already relying on three true sophomores in Jamel Artis, Mike Young, and Josh Newkirk to help carry the load. With Wright's injury, that means that not only will Newkirk get even more playing time, but another young player, sophomore Chris Jones, could see more time, too. Essentially, Pitt is replacing (with all due respect to Derrick Randall) the only senior that is expected to be a big contributor with sophomores - that's rarely a good thing. There will be times when the team needs leadership and that's going to fall mostly on the offensively-challenged James Robinson with Wright out of the lineup.
Another issue is that, despite what the media pundits will tell you, Pitt's non-conference schedule is going to be more difficult this year. Right now, there are a lot of questions about who the Panthers will face just yet at the Maui Invitational, but there's a strong chance that in addition to the road game at Hawaii and Chaminade, they'll get two games against San Diego State, BYU, Arizona, Missouri, Kansas State, and/or Purdue. With a presumed second-round matchup against either SDSU/BYU, there's a fighting chance that Pitt will play a dangerous Arizona team. And, oh yeah, there's the difficult road game at Indiana that Wright will miss as well.
There's also the chance that Pitt doesn't get great matchups at the Maui event and that's where his absence could really hurt. Pitt's out of conference SOS has often hurt the team when it has come to NCAA Tournament seeding before, and if the Panthers can't get past SDSU/BYU without him, they stand the chance of facing a much less desirable opponent such as Purdue. With Wright, the Panthers would stand a better chance of getting to potentially face Arizona. The SOS could take a big hit there and, in the end, it could mean a far more difficult path in the NCAAs.
In addition, while getting Newkirk additional minutes is something fans have clamored for, expectations should be tempered there, too. While he did show a spark in the second half of last season (a significant one, actually), Newkirk also isn't quite the player that Wright is. While Newkirk shot about the same from the floor as Wright did, Wright averaged more points and rebounds per minute, than the freshman did. Newkirk certainly adds a different dimension to the team in that he's ultra quick and can shoot from three-point range with greater accuracy, but Cam is also a better defender and less prone to making turnovers. And at 44.7%, Newkirk is an abysmal free throw shooter who the team will have to rely more upon.
Then there's also the timing issue. While missing Wright in the non-conference season beats the alternative of later in the year, it's still a difficult time to miss. He'll get back essentially right at the start of the ACC season with maybe a game or two to spare, and while the team starts off slowly in conference play with games against North Carolina State, Boston College, and Clemson, the first two are on the road. Any road conference game is hardly an ideal time to get your feet wet and even when he's back, it will take him a little time to get acclimated to the offense and the new players around him.
Lastly, even if you're not convinced there's much of a dropoff between Wright and Newkirk in terms of pure skill, what can't be questioned is that Pitt's depth takes a significant hit. A combo of Wright/Newkirk is better than Newkirk/Jones, and missing Wright just makes the team much thinner. Really, there's no logical conclusion that says the team is better off without Wright since even if you prefer him on the bench, he's still a better option than the players there.
This isn't a doom and gloom prognostication and Pitt generally has found ways to survive these things in the past. For that reason, my initial guess is that they should be fine. However, losing what should be the team's leading scorer this year is a reason the Panthers could struggle on the court and/or in the battle for NCAA Tournament seeding. Getting through the stretch of games without him is ultimately going to be more difficult.
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