The state of college basketball these days is an interesting one. No matter how you run your program, no team is safe from the constant roster movement that has become rampant in the game today. Pitt has really dealt with this a lot of turnover in recent seasons, and here is quick recap of who Pitt has going into the 2015-16 season with a position by position look.
- Rozelle Nix 7'0" Junior (Junior College Transfer)
- Rafael Maia 6'9" Senior (Graduate transfer from Brown)
- Alonzo Nelson-Ododa 6'9" Senior (Graduate transfer from Richmond)
The center position is the one that has changed dramatically in the past two months since the season ended. Essentially, Jamie Dixon totally revamped the position altogether, and he did it by adding veteran transfers that should help on the defensive end. Pitt received little to no production from the centers on the roster last season (outside of Michael Young), and the bar is not set real high for the newcomers to upgrade the position. In all actuality, any sort of playing time and statistics they can provide would be huge in terms of improving the position.
I would guess the favorite to land the starting position may be Rafael Maia, the graduate transfer from Brown. Maia was the Ivy League's leading the rebounder this past season, and has been a consistent force in the post for the Bears for three years now. Maia is listed at 6'9" 245 and should be able to bang down low in the ACC, but his athleticism and the step up in competition are obviously concerns at this point.
Alonzo Nelson-Ododa could have an excellent chance to start as well, but probably provides less of a scoring threat than Maia. Having played for Richmond in the Atlantic 10 is helpful, as that is certainly better basketball than the Ivy League. Still, Nelson-Ododa has averaged just six points a game in each of the past two seasons. He is likely the best athlete among the centers, and his shot blocking presence is a nice asset to have.
Rozelle Nix is an intriguing player, and has two years of eligibility. Nix is a big body, but has been working vigorously to get himself into shape. Adding the two transfers certainly takes the pressure off of him, but at the same time, hopefully he is ready to contribute. Pitt has not had a big body presence in the middle the past two seasons, and Nix does have that quality with a 7"0" 300+ pound frame.
So you take away Joe Uchebo who could not move very well, Tyrone Haughton who was not good enough to even get on the floor, and Derrick Randall who was not good enough to seize a position gift-wrapped for him to take and you replace them with the three players mentioned above. Pitt has upgraded the position, and while they are not long term solutions, all three players are basically better than what they had to work with this past season.
- Michael Young 6'9" Junior
- Ryan Luther 6'9" Sophomore
Michael Young is firmly entrenched as the team's power forward, and is coming off an excellent season this past year. Young had to play most of the season at center, and responded fairly well by averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds a game, and doing that while being out-sized in nearly every conference game. Young may still see some time at center in certain situations, but with the additions of Maia and Nelson-Ododa, it really frees him up more than any other player, and he should benefit from it greatly.
Ryan Luther found himself in the rotation in the early part of the schedule, but fell from grace as the year progressed. Luther appears to have a nice shooting stroke and a high basketball IQ, but in the end, he was probably rushed into playing time with the uncertainty of some players last season. A redshirt would do Luther well, because Pitt has options after Young and he is not necessarily needed. Still, he has some tools and a year in the system, and could force his way into some playing time.
Young has a grasp on this spot, but you may see Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter here at times, heck there may be spots where both Nelson-Ododa and Maia are in the game together. However you look at the two interior spots, they have pieces that seem interchangeable.
- Jamel Artis 6'7" Junior
- Sheldon Jeter 6'8" Junior
- Cameron Johnson 6'7" Freshman
Jamel Artis played really well as an undersized power forward last season, and Pitt actually found a groove with him in that spot. It's unfortunate that you have to take him from that position, but with some true centers around this season that can actually play, you have to make the switch. Artis and Young are clearly Pitt's two best players, so they have to both play 30+ minutes a contest and Jamel will have to do some more work on the wing in 2016. He has a good shooting touch and can be a good passer, but he needs to concentrate on limiting turnovers and improving his ball handling to make the transition.
Sheldon Jeter really turned things on late in the year, and can play both forward spots if need be. Jeter needs to add a little muscle, but he has a nice shot and athleticism and he was a major factor in some of Pitt's biggest wins this past season. If Jeter can give them a whole season, he can be one of the top bench players in the conference.
Cameron Johnson could stick here on the wing or be a shooting guard, it could go either way really. Johnson played in the early part of the season before a shoulder injury, and a lot of his playing time will depend on how he responds to his recovery. Dixon seemed to trust his defensive ability and he has a knack for shooting. He will play if he can make outside shots. Period.
Artis started last year on the wing, and it did not work out as well as some hoped. Pitt played better basketball with him at the "four" instead, but with a better group of centers, it almost has to work out this way. Jeter will play this spot at times, so will Chris Jones even, and like I mentioned above, Cameron Johnson will play if he can make outside shots.
- Chris Jones 6'6" Junior
- Sterling Smith 6'4" Senior (Graduate transfer from Coppin State)
- Damon Wilson 6'4" Freshman (79th rated recruit in the country)
Chris Jones is a streaky player, but with his fourth year in the program, he could make a big impact this season. Jones really stepped up at times last season, and is one guy that could put the offense on his back with his shooting ability. He needs to be more consistent, but whether he starts or not, Chris Jones is going to be a big part of this basketball team.
Sterling Smith comes from Coppin State as a graduate transfer and is regarded as an outside shooting specialist. The question is whether or not he can compete at this level coming from the MEAC. Shooting is shooting, and if he can make his three point shots, he has a role on this team as a senior guard. Throughout his three years at Coppin State, he posted good rebounding numbers for a guard, and I am sure Dixon is hopeful that trend can continue.
It's still unclear where Damon Wilson will play, but he is likely going to see time at both guard spots. He is a highly rated guard out of high school, and should be able to contribute immediately. He is a typical Pitt guard that is bigger and is a good passer. He will be a good player for this program in his career, but he is a bit backed up on the depth chart as it looks right now.
In all actuality, any of these three guys could take the starting spot. Each guy brings something a little different to the table, and it should be a good race. Unlike last year, it appears that Pitt has more options and pieces at every position and shooting guard looks to be well stocked.
- James Robinson 6'3" Senior
- Josh Newkirk 6'1" Junior
James Robinson will be in his fourth go-round as Pitt's starting point guard. Robinson's overall numbers have gotten better with each season, and he will be one of the few four-year starting point guards in all of major college basketball. He does have his flaws, but having him back is still a positive thing and perhaps he has saved his best season for last. He logged a lot of minutes last season, and hopefully his workload is not quite as extensive this season because he benefits from rest and maximizing his minutes.
Josh Newkirk had a disappointing season, and now will be dealing with rehabbing from a knee surgery this off-season. One of Pitt's biggest downfalls this season was Newkirk's inability to take a step forward, as they were counting on him to be a much better player than he was this season. If he can get back to playing well and providing good, quality minutes, Pitt will be a lot better off, and James Robinson will benefit from having less responsibilities.
Pitt is pretty well set here with these two guys, but Wilson can factor in here as well. If Newkirk's recovery takes longer, or if he continues to struggle on the court, there will be no choice but to play Wilson at the point guard spot.