Early look at the City Game and Pitt

By Steve DiMiceli

Following the first week of the college football season, a big part of me wishes that this year's city game was going to take place at Heinz Field. After all, the Dukes put in a better first half against a better team than the Panthers did yesterday. Of course, Duquesne came up short against Old Dominion just as they would likely come up short against Pitt on the gridiron. All kidding aside, there is clearly a huge gap between the Pitt team and the Duquesne team talent wise. The same can be said on the basketball court, but the margin isn't as wide as some might think and I believe it's beginning to close.

It's not that I think that Duquesne is getting substantially better. Clearly, they're not at least not in the short run. 2012-2013 looks to be the most challenging season for the Dukes in some time. However, I think there is upside on the Duquesne  roster but it's not proven at this point. Pitt's overall talent seems to be sliding due to highly acclaimed front court prospects busting like they played for Ron Everhart. Dante Taylor has yet to realize anything in the neighborhood of his potential. Khem Birch flamed out in a semester. Both were considered the fourth best power forward in their calss by Rivals. Both failed to meet expectations as Panthers. Over the years, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has fared a lot better with blue collar than blue chip players and the misses are beginning to add up. Make no mistake, this is still a very talented team with a lot of players I would love to have in a Duquesne uniform, but the flops are keeping them from elite status and allowing Duquesne the opportunity to play catch up.

Key Departures:

Ashton Gibbs: The Panthers lose nearly 40% of their scoring from last season and nearly half of that came from Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs was a threat who required a lot of attention and created more space for his teammates. His presence will be missed but his erratic personal performances will not be. He had a lot of 20+ point games, but he has a lot of single digit performances as well.

Nasir Robinson: The Panthers will miss his grit and his work ethic. He played much larger than his physical stature would suggest. Seemed like the heart and soul of the club last year.

Birch: Transferred to UNLV at the mid point of his freshman year. He was much more raw than expected and his role was likely far smaller than he envisioned it.

Key Returning Players:

Travon Woodall : Should be one of the top PG's the Dukes face all year. He averaged 11.7 points and 6 assists last season. Unless Derrick Colter or Sean Johnson step up their defensive game, the Dukes have no one to guard him.

Lamar Patterson: I look for Patterson to be a focal point for the team offensively and for him to take a big step forward from the 9.4 points he averaged last season. In fact, I think there is a strong chance he'll lead the team in scoring. He's a solid shooter and finisher and strong on the glass. I expect him to be a difficult man to contain as he can hurt you shooting, passing and rebounding.

Taylor: Taylor doesn't deserve to be in this category, but he had his best game of the season against the Dukes last year. He averaged fewer than six points and five rebounds in the 2011-2012 campaign and  struggled for much of the summer league.

Potential Breakout Players

Talib Zanna: The only team award he's ever won is best hair, but I could see him making a bigger impact this year. His defense and rebounding have always been strong but his offensive game has developed much more slowly. In the sparse defensive landscape of the PBC Pro-Am, he showed some progress this summer. If that translates, Pitt could have a nice post combo with Zanna and Stephen Adams the next couple of years.

JJ Moore: Didn't get to see Moore this summer, but he's another strong breakout candidate for Pitt. He averaged 7.5 per game last year in a pretty limited role.

Cameron Wright: With minutes opening up at shooting guard, Wright should see more PT this year. He had a good summer at the Pro-Am. There isn't anything flashy about him. He just plays the game, finishes and does it again. Then when you check the stats, you think to yourself "I had no idea Wright had that many points."

John Johnson: Looks to be Pitt's next perimeter threat. Didn't see him this summer but he was a standout last year.


Adams: The next in the line of highly regarded Pitt big men, but Adams is unlikely to disappoint like the rest. There seems to be more polish to his game than guys Birch and Taylor and he actually looks like he might be a top 10 player in his class. There is a lot of one and done speculation about Adams, but I don't see it. However, he should start from day one and add a ton of value to the lineup.

James Robinson: Was the number four PG in the class of 2012. He'll likely back up Woodall this year and take over the starting job next year. Look for he and Derrick Colter to have some epic battles during their career.

Pitt should cobble together a solid 8 or 9 man rotation but it won't be an elite mix of players. They could improve over last season, but I think they're still looking at an somewhere between 60-100 RPI for 2012-2013.  In their best case scenario, I don't see them taking a huge step forward the next year. That being said, their floor is likely better than Duquesne's ceiling. Just about any Duquesne team over the last 5 years would stand a good chance of beating this year's Pitt team. A couple could even be favored. Unfortunately, you have to play the team you have this year and Duquesne's team just doesn't stack up. However, I do see the gap closing Colter can match up with Robinson and I'd gladly take Quevyn Winters  over Chris Jones, the 3rd member of Dixon's 2012 class.  Given the consistent stream of interior busts heading to the Peterson Event Center, Duquesne has the opportunity to catch up even further next year with Ovie Soko in the post.

The talent gap is beginning to close but it probably won't begin to manifest itself in terms of results until next year. A lot of that is because Pitt is down, but Duquense class of 2012 matches up fairly well with the Panthers. Jim Ferry will be charged with closing the divide further by bringing a higher caliber of player to the bluff and developing it. If Duquesne wants to make the city game competitive every year they can't just count on Pitt struggling.