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Rotation questions need resolutions prior to opening of season for mens, women’s basketball

Alonzo-Nelson+Ododa+goes+up+for+the+shot.++Wenhao+Wu+%7C+Staff+Photographer
Alonzo-Nelson Ododa goes up for the shot.  Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Alonzo-Nelson Ododa goes up for the shot. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

Alonzo-Nelson Ododa goes up for the shot. Wenhao Wu | Staff Photographer

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

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As leaves fall and the air chills, the attention of Pitt fans shifts from the resurgent Panther football team to the promising campaigns of the Pitt men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Hitting the court Nov. 13, for their season openers, the men’s team is prepping its suitcases for a trip to Japan, while the women will storm out to friendly faces and familiar territory at the Petersen Events Center.

But before they snap on their sweatbands, head coaches Jamie Dixon and Suzie McConnell-Serio said they have to attend to some unfinished business.

To get you ready for game day, here are six takeaways from the last week’s Blue-Gold scrimmage and practices so far.

Replacing Kiesel

Former Panther Brianna Kiesel brought irreplaceable leadership and vision to last year’s team, but other players must try and set the tone ­— and raise the score ­— in her place.

Sophomore forward Stasha Carey began to assert herself last season and appears poised to continue leading a young Pitt squad this season. She started all 32 of the team’s games last year and grabbed a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game. She consistently beat her teammates down low to make easy layups and offensive rebounds.

Outside of Carey, look for freshman point guard Cassidy Walsh to provide a steady long-distance option for the Panthers. Walsh scored 13 points in the exhibition, and McConnell-Serio said she’s one of the team’s premier 3-point shooters.

Freshmen inbound

McConnell-Serio expects her five freshman players to adapt quickly and contribute early. The coach pointed specifically to forward Brenna Wise and guard Tania Lamb as the strongest freshmen performers, but added that forwards Kalista Walters and Kauai Bradley have also impressed her at times.

“Tania was getting open looks from three, and Brenna was a force inside,” McConnell-Serio said. “But Kalista and Kauai, as freshmen, have had their great moments, and we’ll look to utilize them in a lot of ways because of their versatility.”

Mixing and matching

McConnell-Serio said there isn’t a set rotation yet entering the season, and last week’s exhibition didn’t shed any clarity on the matter. The head coach tried her players at several different positions and matched up different teammates against each other.

“Every day, a different player steps up, and you think about them in the rotation,” McConnell-Serio said.

She added that the team’s rotation could extend to 11 players in games, but her team’s versatility could blur that rotation.

“We’re just working on our combinations,” she said. “We have guards that can play the point and the wing, so I’m just trying to mix up the lineup and see what we have right now.”

Big men in bunches

On the men’s side, Pitt’s rotation of big men has changed drastically since last season, especially at the center position. Joseph Uchebo, Derrick Randall and Tyrone Haughton are gone, replaced by transfer centers Rozelle Nix, Rafael Maia and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa.

Dixon said the position is open right now, and he is still figuring the rotation.

“We’ve got a good rotation of guys that’s still in the works as to what we’re going to do,” Dixon said after the Blue-Gold scrimmage.

The centers are still unsure of their standing in Dixon’s plans, but remain confident in their abilities regardless.

Nelson-Ododa said their specific skills complement each other on the court.

“The good thing about having so many different big men is the versatility,” Nelson-Ododa said. “With Rozelle and Rafael, you have size and strength. With me, it’s athleticism and versatility.”

With these skill sets, Dixon will likely continue tweaking his rotation early in the season to find the right combination on the court.

Business trip

Pitt’s schedule has a new wrinkle this season, as the team travels to Okinawa, Japan, for a season-opening matchup against No. 9 Gonzaga. Part of the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ strength comes from their forwards, particularly Kyle Wiltjer. The battle down low will be in the limelight Nov. 13.

“One thing [Dixon] has stressed is that they were the best field goal shooting team in the country,” Nelson-Ododa said.

Last season, Gonzaga shot 52 percent from the field, best in Division I. Nelson-Ododa said the team’s goal is to hold opponents under 40 percent in games, so watch that stat line in the opener to see if Dixon’s team can execute this game plan.

Changing of the guard

Entering his fourth and final season as Pitt’s floor leader, point guard James Robinson will begin handing off the ball-handling duties to freshman Damon Wilson. Wilson seems prepared to step in early, scoring 10 points and dishing out three assists in the Blue-Gold scrimmage.

“I’ve learned to take my time more [from Robinson],” Wilson said. “He’s more fundamental, so I’m taking that from him. He does a good job at that.”

Dixon said Wilson improved at the position in the scrimmage as well, so expect to see split minutes at the point guard position early in the season.

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Rotation questions need resolutions prior to opening of season for mens, women’s basketball