So, I originally posted this on the Pitt message board, but then I got to thinking "Damn, this would be a really nice blog post." So here we are. And to make coming here worth your while, I included some bonus material and predictions at the end.
I think next year's team will be much better, assuming Sam Young doesn't bolt for the draft. Consider:
1. We will have one the nation's elite point guards in Levance Fields running the offense. In addition to his physical gifts and leadership quality, the fact that he will be a senior coming off of a dissapointing loss to end his junior year means that he will be extra motivated to lead this team, and as a senior (I would expect him to be team Captain) he will be able to really motivate and lead some of the younger guys.
2. Sam Young isn't done improving. Young wants to be an NBA player, and I think he is smart enough to realize he isn't there yet. He doesn't need to improve his scoring average by 11 points again (although if he did, I kinda suspect he would be a lottery pick, so Sam, I hope you're reading this and decide to go out and score 29 ppg next year ) but I do think he will improve his defense and rebounding, and we can expect to see more of the type of both-ends-of-the-court dominance we saw during the Big East Tournament. With thoughts of NBA millions potentially available, I think we can expect to see some tremendous play out of Young. Now don't misconstrue me as insinuating that he is only motivated by money--of course he isn't--but it will be a factor in his continued progress towards becoming a NBA caliber forward. As a final note on this topic, I really hope Young does well and gets drafted in the 1st round next year, because it will be major validation for our program that Pitt can get guys who stay for 4 years into the NBA.
3. DeJuan Blair--Let's be honest, he hit the wall HARD this year. Next year, he'll be stronger, smarter, and in better shape. Better defense, less ticky-tack fouls, and a higher basketball IQ will make the reigning Big East Co-Freshman of the year even more of a force to be reckoned with.
4. Gilbert Brown--Even more than Sam Young, I think Brown has NBA potential, and I cannot wait to see him play. I'm hoping he has a Young-esque improvement--actually, not hoping, but expecting--and I think he will be an excellent defender and provide a nice scoring option when teams try and double Blair or Young. If Brown can become a threat from 3, Pitt will be scary-good next year.
5. Biggs- Did he finally wake up towards the end of last year? Will he finally start playing like he is capable of, and providing Pitt with some real depth in the frontcourt? I think he will. Becoming a senior tends to have that sort of an effect on a player (Antonio Graves and Keith Benjamin the last two years come to mind as guys who have historically underachieved during their Pitt careers, but then really contributed to the team as seniors. I think Biggs steps it up as a senior and really contributes to the team.)
6. Wannamaker-He can't possibly be worse next year, right? But seriously, Knight and Fields will take Brad under their wings. The poor kid was obviously overmatched this year, and I do think he will be a serviceable backup next year. Admittedly, I'm a little nervous about this kid, but if there is one thing Pitt does well, its churn out quality guards, and I expect that tradition to continue with Wannamaker.
7. Gary McGhee--Outside of Brown, this was the one player I really thought needed to see more playing time. At 6-10, he won't be a scorer for us, but we'll need some big minutes from him every now and then to get some boards and use his big body and 5 fouls to wear down opponents' big men. I think he is a tremendous asset of the bench.
8. Freshman Class-I am woefully underinformed about the quality of our incoming freshman class, but I've heard good things about Nasir Robinson, so assuming he can give us decent minutes off the bench, we'll once again be able to have good depth and a nice rotation.
9.Jamie Dixon-Often a coach can get overlooked as a monolithic, unchanging figure. Perhaps for a Kzryzkewski or Calhoun or Boheim, that might be the case. But for Jamie, he is still rapidly improving and changing as a coach. He (albeit a bit because of circumstance) had to show a lot more faith in young guys last year, and its important to rember that in a sport where coaches spend decades in the sport, Jamie is still really young, and he is continuing to learn and improve. But as last year's terrific coaching job shows, Jamie is definitly on the right track.
In the end, I think Pitt improves at every single starting position. Fields will be playing with a focus and intensity only your senior year can bring. Young will be showing off for NBA scouts. Blair will be stronger, tougher, and smarter. (If only I could say three inches taller!) Brown just might with Most Improved Player in the Big East, giving Pitt that honor for two years in a row. And believe it or not, Tyrelly Biggs will finally stop disapointing me, because as I mentioned earlier, becoming a senior does wonderous things for a player's psyche. If you add on to the fact that this team will be deeper and (hopefully healthier) than last year's team, with an outstanding leader and floor general you can start to get excited. But all the intangibles are there as well. Experience won't be a factor given that we're DEFENDING BIG EAST CHAMPIONS and after the injuries and hardships, mental toughness will not be a problem either. That has to make any Pitt fan really excited.I cannot wait to see this team on the floor next year, and now, as promised, I give you some predictions to ponder over the summer months as we all eagerly await the start of a promising new season:
Pitt Will Repeat as Big East Champs
Chance this will happen: Moderate. MSG is Pitt's home away from home, and although they're 2-6 in championship games, they are always a threat to win it, and no one wants to play Pitt in the Big East Tournament.
Chance I'm being a total homer: Extremely low. Everyone knows Pitt loves to play at MSG, and LeVance is NYC born a bred. You know he wants to go out as back-to-back champs, and it will be hard to stop him.
Pitt Will Win 30 Games
Chance this will happen: High. Pitt will improve on their 26 wins from this year by not losing to Rutgers at home (27), avoiding one of those Levance-less losses earlier in the year (28) and finally breaking out of the Sweet 16 (29,30)
Chance I'm being a total homer: Low. Jamie wins 10 games in a row to start the year every year, and with 18 conference games, some Big East Tourney Games, and the NCAAs, Pitt will be able to get to 30 despite playing in one of the most brutal conferences in the country.
Pitt Will Make it to the Elite 8
Chance this will happen: Moderate. Pitt has had issues getting past the Sweet 16, and many thought this was Pitt's year. History may be against Pitt, but next year's team will be one of the most talented and athletic (Blair, Young, Brown) that we've had in some time.
Chance I'm being a total homer: Very High. I cannot lie, I must admit I cannot shake my Pitt bias here. This may be more of a wishful hope than a prediction, but at least I'm honest, right?
Well I hope you enjoyed this somewhat lengthy entry. What can I say? I'm really excited about Pitt basketball. See you all at the Pete!!!