In doing research for my last article, I asked myself if sophomore forward Jamel Artis was the best second-year player under head coach Jamie Dixon. Immediately, DeJuan Blair came to mind and completely invalided the question. Still, a recent tweet (@Buy_SellNorwin) compelled me to further examine some outstanding sophomore seasons during Dixon's time at the helm.
Carl Krauser, 2003-2004
Krauser had enormous shoes to fill after the beloved Brandin Knight departed. There was very little indication during his freshman season that he'd be up to the task. But when he took over the reins in his second season, he was simply fantastic. He added nearly 10 points to his per game scoring average to go along with an additional two rebounds and two assists. He led the team in scoring, assists, and had nearly twice as many makes from the free throw line as the next highest player.
His team finished with a record of 31-5, but lost in the Sweet 16 against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Pittsburgh Panthers were ranked as high as 3rd in the AP Poll that season, and finished in 9th. Let's not forget the iconic "X" Krauser made with his arms as he back-peddled down the court after a made basket.
On a personal note: I'll never forget my dad openly rooting for Hakim Warrick to stay down in overtime against the Syracuse Orange. The eventual loss was the first ever at the Petersen Event Center, and the moment I realized that sports mattered...at least to my dad.
DeJuan Blair, 2008-2009
Blair is one of the top-3 players under Dixon ever, it's that simple. While Pitt fans only enjoyed him for two seasons, they sure were awesome ones. Who can forget when the team captured the number one spot in the AP Poll for the first two weeks of January 2009 and also in late February? How about the epic battles against Hasheem Thabeet of the Connecticut Huskies?
Blair didn't enjoy the same leap in production as the other players on this list because he was stud from day one. Named to the All-American Freshman Team, he shared co-Big East Player of the Year with Thabeet as a sophomore, and was named a consensus First-Team All-American by the AP, USBWA, and The Sporting News. He led the team in rebounding, blocked shots, steals, field goal percentage, and led the team with 21 double-doubles.
His team finished the season with a 31-5 record and captured a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their run to the Elite 8 remains the only time Dixon has made it that far into the Big Dance, and the last time the Panthers even made it out of the first weekend. They were 27-3 that season when leading at halftime; two of those loses were to the Villanova Wildcats...I hate you Scottie Reynolds.
Ashton Gibbs, 2009-2010
It's easy to forget Gibbs because he seems to be one of the most polarizing players to have played at the 'Pete'. While his senior season didn't go as planned, his sophomore season was a revelation. As a full-time starter, Gibbs added over 11 points to his per game scoring average; the largest increase of the group. He led the team in points, three-point makes (3x more than the next highest player), and free throw percentage.
He helped his team to a 25-9 record that cracked the AP Poll in January 2010 and climbed as far as 9th a few weeks later. Granted, the non-conference schedule helped a lot; their two loses were to the Texas Longhorns and Indiana Hoosiers at neutral sites. Pitt claimed a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament that year, but fell to the Xavier Musketeers in their second game. Gibbs was no doubt a great three-point specialist, but I never felt he made more than five clean swishes his entire career.
Jamel Artis, 2013-2014
Artis is perhaps the most unique player on this list. The Panthers have enjoyed a steady stream of excellent frontcourt players and guards, particularly lead guards. What makes Artis unique is that he can stretch a defense with his touch from the outside and is a very good passer. We should be talking about his court vision and how he makes the proper kind of pass the same way we talked about the quick hands of Blair.
He's added slightly over eight points to his per game scoring average, but over 10 in ACC games. He's more than doubled his rebounding average, more than tripled his assist average, improved his floor percentages, and reduced his turnover percentage despite increasing his usage. Those are no small feats. Especially, as he's risen to the top of opponents scouting reports.
I've included the freshman and sophomore stats for all players (ppg/rpg/apg):
Krauser - 6.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg
Blair - 11.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg, .9 apg
Gibbs - 4.3 ppg, .7 rpg, .9 apg
Artis - 4.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .6 apg
Krauser - 15.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.5 apg
Blair - 15.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.2 apg
Gibbs - 15.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
Artis - 13.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 apg