While teams like West Virginia and Connecticut have found themselves in the Final Four over the past two seasons, the Panthers have been back in Pittsburgh wondering when their time will come. The Huskies and Mountaineers have both missed the NCAA tournament multiple times during the last nine years, but Pitt has been a regular in the field of 65. So why do inconsistent schools such as UConn and WVU find their way into the Final Four while Pitt cannot? The answer is simple: recruiting. In order to make it into the Final Four a team needs to have super stars–something which Pitt lacks in every season. The Panthers have only sent three players to the draft over the past nine years, none of which have been first rounders. Compare that to Connecticut’s 10 players sent and West Virginia’s two players that are expected to go in the top 20 of the 2010 draft. Take comfort though Panther fans, the class of 2010 is most likely the best in the Jamie Dixon/Ben Howland era. Combine that with the top 15 class that Dixon brought in last year, and Pitt looks like it will be a national contender for many seasons to come. With only three recruits coming in next year, the class looks about as full as a West Virginian’s set of teeth, but all three have the potential to make an immediate impact on the Big East. There are also two redshirted members of the 2009 class that will compete for time on next years squad. Here is a look at the newcomers:
J.J. Moore: 6’6″, class of 2010
Offers From: Louisville, UConn, Marquette
Rating: Scout.com-4 stars, Rivals.com-3 stars, Espn.com-93
The Skinny: After ranking 12th in the Big East in points-per-game, the Panthers are in desperate need of a do-it-all offensive performer. Cue J.J. Moore. Moore has the most star-quality of any incoming recruit–the problem is he may not be incoming. With eligibility being an issue, Moore may be force to take a year of prep school before he can put on a Pitt uniform. Lets say that he does make it for the sake of this preview though. Moore will be the most talented player on the Panthers squad as a freshmen. He has good handles for his 6’5″ frame and can explode to the rim. What makes him a real threat though is that he can step back and hit he trey. Although he is not a lights-out shooter, Moore is certainly capable of knocking down shots when his interior game is not working. He can either complement the guards with his shooting or the bigs with his rebounding. There is one thing keeping him from the top of the rankings–his defense. With the athleticism and talent he brings to the table though, it will not take Dixon long to turn Moore into a defensive stud. For an idea of just how good this kid is, look at some of his recent accomplishments. Moore was invited to compete in the NBA top-100 camp and named an all-star after performing as one of the top-5 players in the Reebok All-American Camp. More impressive though is that he was named IS8 player of the year–a tournament which has featured players such as Lebron James, Ron Artest, Michael Beasley, and Elton Brand. Moore has NBA written all over him. Having him in 2010 could be the difference between the Panthers being a great team, or simply a good team.
Lamar Patterson: 6’5″, class of 2009
Offers From: Miami (fl), Michigan, Minnesota, Temple
Rating: Scout.com-3 stars, Rivals.com-3 stars, Espn.com-91 (top 100)
The Skinny: Patterson is an athletic wing who has the ability to step outside and hit the three or grind it out with the bigs for a rebound. He should make a nice contribution to next years team and even help the Panthers long range game as he showed earlier this year, hitting 5 of his 11 three point attempts. Patterson also crashes the glass hard as was evidence by his famous high-school dunk over consensus five-star recruit Keith “Tiny” Gallon. The problem with Patterson is that he does many things well but is not a super star in any facet of his game. Look for the 2009 recruit to be a glue-guy with more potential than Nasir Robinson. Ultimately though, Patterson won’t find many minutes on next years team unless Moore does not qualify. Thanks to his shooting ability Patterson has the potential to play his way into a major role for the Panthers, but for the 2010 season look for him to come off the bench and give Pitt a needed boost on an off shooting night.
Talib Zanna: 6’9″, Class of 2009
Offers From: Oklahoma, Villanova, George Mason
Rating: Scout.com-4 stars, Rivals.com-3 stars, Espn.com-90
The Skinny: Zanna is said to have freakish athletic ability but is still very raw, hence the reason for the redshirt. Many Pitt fans are excited to finally see Zanna play but few know what to expect. Pitt has gained a reputation as a program who plays fundamentally sound basketball and gets the most out of their average athletic players. Who knows what Jamie Dixon can do with a player who is in the opposite position of having great athleticism but little basketball knowledge. Best case scenario is Zanna turns out to be another Chris Taft–great skill and the ability to dominate. Worst case scenario is he that he has trouble transferring to the college game and never utilizes his superior athleticism. Either way, next year is a toss up. When in doubt though, look at Dixon’s track record with big men. If Zanna has improved his jump-shot then there is reason to be excited over this kid. He can face his man up and take him to the rim or back him down and score inside. He is also said to be a shot-blocking force. His playing time next season will depend on his defensive awareness though. Expect Zanna to average about 8 minutes a game at the 4-spot with potential for more. If he can free Gilbert Brown up to play more at the 3-spot Pitt will be in good position.
Cameron Wright: 6’5″, Class of 2010
Offers From: Indiana, Wisconsin, originally committed to Ohio State.
Rating: Scout.com-4 stars, Rivals.com-3 stars, Espn.com-93 (Top 100)
The Skinny: Recently named the Ohio Division II player of the year, Cameron Wright has all the necessary talent to be a premier player in the Big East. He averaged 19.3 points, 7 points, and 4.2 assists per game as a senior. Perhaps the more telling stat though is that after an injury to his team’s starting point guard he was forced to play the position where he averaged over 20 ppg and managed a 4.25/1 assist to turnover ratio over a four game stretch. Wright’s power and speed makes him a perfectly suited athlete for the Big East Conference. Combine his 6’5″ frame with his outstanding defense and it not hard to see that Wright will be guarding the best players on the floor when his time comes. As a slashing guard, Wright has the ability to take his defender all the way to the rack or dish it out for a three-pointer. Also noted as a great passer, Wright seems to do everything well–but there is one flaw in his game. Two summers ago he reconstructed his shot which could prove to be troublesome. There is encouraging news though. As a senior he shot over 60% on 2-point baskets and 35% on 3-pointers. Of course those numbers could be skewed by the fact that his superior athleticism and slashing mentality put him close to the rim for many of his points. There is no doubt that Wright will one day be a starter in the Pitt program–probably for multiple years. He has the talent to be the difference maker in close games and the type of work ethic that could one day have him playing professionally. The only problem is that he will be behind a long list of wing players in the 2010 season. With Brad Wannamaker, Ashton Gibbs, Isaiah Epps, Brown, Patterson, and possibly Moore in front of him, expect Wright to redshirt next year. It will be the best option for both his and the Panther’s future.
Isaiah Epps: 6’2″, Class of 2010
Offers From: Maryland, Texas
Rating: Scout.com-4 stars, Rivals.com-4 stars (Top 100), Espn.com-93 (Top 100)
The Skinny: Epps will continue the trend of great point-guards at Pitt. He has more talent than Levance Fields and better scoring ability than Carl Krauser, but the comparisons stop there. Epps is said to have lightning quick speed and a smooth stroke. He will also be a threat because his 3-point ball is money, which will give a potent one-two perimeter punch when Epps and Gibbs see time together. The incoming freshmen can take the ball to the rack with ease, but one knock on his game is that he has trouble driving right. Despite that fact he has NBA potential and showed it off earlier last month in the National Prep Championship. Epps lead all scorers with 20 points and showed-off his smothering defense. Epps comes in as a well-rounded player though and will make an impact as a freshmen next year. I expect Epps to start over Travon Woodall at the point next season and ultimately make his way onto the Big East All-Rookie team.