This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.
Can Pittsburgh overcome key personnel losses and injuries to compete with the ACC’s big boys?
Last year was Pittsburgh’s first season in the ACC, and the Panthers came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning 18 of their first 20 games and starting conference play with a 6-1 record. Then things headed south as Jamie Dixon’s squad limped home, finishing fifth in the league with an 11-7 mark. There was even some talk that Pittsburgh was on the bubble before they won two games in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid. Now the Panthers are ready for a second go-round in an improved ACC, but without the services of last year’s two best players, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.
The explanation for last year’s dropoff midway through the ACC season was twofold. The primary reason was a series of injuries that ran through the squad like a mini-epidemic. Durand Johnson was Pitt’s third-leading scorer when he tore his ACL in a January win over Wake Forest, immediately ending his season. While his was the only major injury, the team was soon beset by nagging ailments that seemed to hit at the same time. Patterson was mentioned as a possible ACC Player of the Year candidate before a hand injury caused the senior to lose his shooting touch. Zanna played through a severe ankle sprain, but the injury zapped him of his explosiveness and caused the Panthers staples — interior defense and rebounding — to suffer immensely. Others that played hurt were freshmen Michael Young (back) and Chris Jones (thumb). The second problem was that the schedule got tougher after that excellent ACC start, and the Panthers subsequently went 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams. That issue, combined with an extremely weak non-conference slate (278th nationally), is what put Pitt in the position of needing quality wins in Greensboro to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers got that cherished victory when they barely held off North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals. Can Dixon’s squad avoid the same scenario this season?