Despite being picked fourth in last year’s preseason Big East coaches’ poll, Jamie Dixon’s squad went 5-13 in conference play and finished at a dismal 13th place in the standings. Pitt fans expect a big rebound from the disappointment of last season: Their team returns fifth-year senior Tray Woodall, seven of its nine top scorers, and a blockbuster recruiting class featuring hulking Kiwi Steven Adams, the school’s highest-ranked basketball commitment of all-time. Big East coaches seem to agree that Pitt is on the uptick, placing Pitt sixth in last week’s preseason Big East coaches’ poll. While the writers at RTC’s Big East microsite have their reservations about Pitt’s ability to reverse course over a single offseason, there’s enough talent at Jamie Dixon’s disposal to envision a substantial improvement. But the loss of leading scorer and leader Ashton Gibbs, coupled with lingering doubts about Woodall’s health, makes it difficult to place Pitt any higher in our predicted standings.
2011-12 Record: 22-17, 4-14
2011-12 Postseason: 5-1, College Basketball Invitational Champions
Pitt opens up the season with a fairly rigorous non-conference slate. Oakland, Detroit and crosstown rival Duquesne will test the Panthers in November, while neutral-court games in Madison Square Garden against Michigan, Virginia and Kansas State could materialize depending on how the Preseason NIT bracket unfolds. Apart from that tournament in late November, Pitt won’t leave the familiar confines of Pittsburgh until January 5, when it travels to Rutgers.
The Panthers draw a fairly advantageous Big East schedule in 2012-13, with home-and-home series against Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and Villanova (two of whom we predicted to finish in the bottom third of the conference). The most brutal stretch of the Big East schedule takes place between the end of January and the third week of February, when Pitt plays at Louisville, Syracuse, at Cincinnati, at Marquette, Notre Dame and at St. John’s. How the team weathers that gauntlet will likely define its season.