Men's Basketball Preview - Pittsburgh Panthers

The Big Picture: The Panthers went into last season with only one returning starter, but the success continued. Coach Jamie Dixon guided Pitt to its ninth straight NCAA berth with the Panthers finishing 25-9 overall and 13-5 in the BIG EAST. Seven of the top eight scorers are back, including four starters, so the level of excellence is likely to continue in 2010-11. The Panthers are the only team in the conference to amass at least 20 victories overall and 10 wins in the BIG EAST over the last nine seasons. 
 
Who's Back: Dixon welcomes back the starting backcourt of junior Ashton Gibbs and senior Brad Wanamaker. Gibbs, who was named BIG EAST Most Improved Player last year, averaged a team-leading 15.7 ppg. A two-time BIG EAST Academic All-Star, he also led the BIG EAST in free throw shooting, making 88.4 percent. Wanamaker averaged 12.3 points and led the team with a 4.7 assist mark, which ranked fourth in the BIG EAST. Sophomore Travon Woodall should see his share of playing time again at point guard. He started 11 games last year and averaged 5.0 ppg. In the frontcourt, center Gary McGhee also was one of the league's most improved players. He averaged 6.9 points and 6.8 rebounds after averaging less than seven minutes of playing time two seasons ago. Junior forward Nasir Robinson (6.6, 5.6) is a returning starter. Six-six senior Gilbert Brown scored 10.7 ppg despite not starting, though he did average 23.7 minutes per game. Six-nine sophomore Dante Taylor (4.1, 3.7) showed some promise in his rookie season. Six-five Lamar Patterson and 6-9 Talib Zanna are redshirt freshmen.
 
Who's Missing: The Panthers lost only one starter, guard Jermaine Dixon who averaged 10.6 ppg, but was even more valuable as a lockdown defender.
 
Storylines: The Panthers relied on a balanced scoring attack last season and that may continue this year. Pitt figures to sustain its outstanding reputation on defense. Last season the Panthers were first in the BIG EAST in scoring defense, allowing only 61.9 ppg. Four newcomers - guards Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright and forwards J.J.Moore and Aron Nwankwo -- may have a difficult time cracking the rotation as freshmen. Last year's squad returned only one starter, but still won 25 games and tied for second place in the BIG EAST. With most of last season's top performers back for 2010-11, it appears another standout season is ahead.