Spotty guard play notwithstanding, Pitt's biggest problem on the floor last season was in the frontcourt. Mike Young and Jamel Artis were, of course, very good. But Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo in the middle were atrocious and Tyrone Haughton, as we know, didn't even get on the court and is transferring out of the program.
It's clear that Jamie Dixon has made getting better in the paint a priority this offseason.
Gone is Randall, who graduated. Same for Haughton, who transferred. And as ESPN's Jeff Borzello reported earlier, Uchebo isn't expected back.
Enter the new guys.
Pitt heavily chased top recruit Cheick Diallo and also Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, but lost out on both. Instead, the Panthers brought in JUCO player Rozelle Nix, who doesn't have the look of a star, but gives Pitt some much-needed bulk at 6'11" and 300+ pounds. And this week, it was Brown's Rafael Maia coming to the Panthers as a graduate transfer.
Maia's credentials are a little stronger as he was the leading rebounder in the Ivy League and a consistent double double threat. In his three seasons at Brown, he's averaged approximately ten points and eight rebounds.
That kind of consistency may not translate over entirely in the more difficult ACC, but Maia has also held his own over his career against P5 conference teams. In five combined games against Notre Dame, Illinois, and Northwestern, Maia averaged 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest. And when you consider that he Maia will be a senior next year and has plenty of experience, there's no question he'll be able to contribute.
I'm still hoping that one or both new guys can take Young out of the center spot. While he's more agile than most big men he faces, he's also often at a disadvantage both offensively (when trying to post up taller defenders) and defensively (where he's undersized and unable to adequately defend taller players). Young can play center, as evidenced last year. But the team will be better off taking that responsibility off of his shoulders. The ideal situation is that Maia and Nix man the position and free Young up to move down to power forward.
Pitt would have been better off landing the duo of Diallo and Thorne, of course. To deny that would be silly, and even if you like them, the combo package of Maia and Nix is a consolation prize of sorts. The Panthers, though, will be better down low than last season, if only by default. Young, Pitt's best post performer last year returns a year better. And while it's unknown how much the team will get out of Maia and Nix, barring injury, you can rest assured it will be more than what Uchebo, Haughton, and Randall did.
Pitt's frontcourt issues may not be entirely solved - but the one thing that's unquestioned is that the team is in a better position than they were a year ago.