Trietley: Questions heading into the Pitt basketball offseason

By Greg Trietley

It’s always good to have a list of platitudes handy for when the letdown happens.

“Look… It’s always good to have a list of platitudes handy for when the letdown happens.

“Look forward, not back.” “There’s always next year.” “The heart was made to be broken.”

OK, that last one is about dating — but it applies to sports, too. Losses hurt, but you have to move on. Questioning knee-jerk decisions made in the Pitt men’s basketball team’s loss to Butler last Saturday won’t do any good. The important questions aren’t about Butler. They’re about next season. Questions like …

Who starts?

With the departure of Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee, Pitt will see, statistically speaking, 40 percent of its scoring leave — to say nothing of the rebounding and defense the trio brought to the table. Three holes in the starting lineup must be filled.

Travon Woodall is next in line at guard. He played almost 22 minutes per game this season and started when Ashton Gibbs hurt his knee. This is an easy call.

Brown is tough to replace because he has such a unique skill set. Gibbs is a catch-and-shoot player, and Woodall doesn’t have the size to drive to the rim with the same authority as Brown and Wanamaker. The second new starter needs some brawn to drive inside but is still able to threaten opponents with his range.

J.J. Moore is my choice. He played very little late in the season, but Pitt doesn’t have anyone more experienced to fill Brown’s shoes as a guard or forward ’tweener. A top recruit in 2009, Moore had some nice stat lines against out-of-conference opponents this year. With a good offseason, he starts over Lamar Patterson, although both receive a bump in playing time.

So my starting lineup is Gibbs, Woodall, Moore, Nasir Robinson and …

Khem Birch. The five-star recruit forwent a post-graduate year at Notre Dame Prep to join Pitt a year sooner than expected. With everybody on both sides of the recruiting process ecstatic that he’s coming to college early, I can’t see him backing up someone else for very long, if at all.

Young Panthers generally serve as understudies to start their careers, but if there’s a player that disrupts Jamie Dixon’s ideology and gets to cut the line, it’s Birch. He’s a tremendous shot-blocker and rebounder, and I think he’ll start even though he’s raw.

Khem Birch, eh? So what happens to Dante Taylor?

Birch passes Taylor as Jamie Dixon’s all-time highest-rated recruit, and if Taylor doesn’t have an outstanding offseason, Birch will pass him on the depth chart, too.

Taylor hasn’t developed like many thought he would as an All-American coming out of high school. His numbers are good — over 10 points and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes — but he has been a weakness at times. He found himself in foul trouble in each of the last three games of the year, culminating in a scoreless night in nine minutes of play against Butler.

Taylor isn’t in the conversation to lose his scholarship — that’s crazy talk — but Birch has NBA written all over him. He’s tough competition. Besides, the Panthers will have a deep rotation again next year, especially in the frontcourt. So Taylor will still play 15-20 minutes per night.

Hey, speaking of that Butler loss — should Pitt fire Dixon?

No. Stop. Just … stop.

We’re seven months away from the Blue-Gold Scrimmage, but I still want to know who will be the favorite in the Big East next year.

There are three standout teams in my book: Pitt, Louisville and Syracuse.

The Cardinals are my pre-preseason choice to win the conference. Their story resembles Pitt’s last season — picked to finish tied for 8th in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, they surprised everyone by finishing in a three-way tie for third and have just one senior departing.

If all the underclassmen stay, they’re worth the first-place vote, just like Pitt was this year.