Trio of new bigs will be key for a Pitt basketball turnaround year


After a 2014-2015 season in which the Pitt men’s basketball team struggled to establish a strong presence in the paint, head coach Jamie Dixon is making a big gamble heading into the upcoming season.

With former Richmond forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa announcing his transfer to Pitt this past weekend, the Panthers are bringing in three new big men, in the form of Nelson-Ododa, junior college commit Rozelle Nix and Brown transfer Rafael Maia.


The trio will replace a group of departures, as center Tyrone Haughton announced he was leaving the program in March, while center Joseph Uchebo is reportedly not expected back with the team as well.


The decision to overhaul the position was a fairly obvious one. Last season, the Panthers ranked second-to-last in the ACC in blocks, while ranking last in the conference in defensive rebounds per game.


The route the team is taking to alleviate its frontcourt woes is somewhat similar to the failed approach last season, which has been an approach that hasn’t worked well for Pitt in recent years. The Panthers haven’t had a junior college player make significant contributions since Jermaine Dixonfrom 2008-2010, and the team hasn’t found a game-changing player via a Division I transfer of late. Sheldon Jeter has been the most consistent transfer in recent memory, while others like forward Derrick Randall and guard Trey Zeigler didn’t meet expectations.


While this is all we have right now to gauge the current situation, it isn’t fair to dismiss these newplayers solely based on performances of past players coming from similar situations. Maia and Nelson-Ododa both produced significantly more at their former schools than Randall did at Rutgers, albeit in lesser conferences than the old Big East or the ACC.


Nix also possesses enviable size at nearly seven feet and has put an emphasis on improving conditioning, shedding significant weight in preparation for the season. Once sitting around 350 pounds, Nix is already down to 300 pounds, while still working on getting in better shape.


The biggest question will end up being how the players fit in Dixon’s program. Dixon likes to find players that mesh well with the way Pitt plays, rather than mold his game plans around particular players. Thisinability to adapt to Pitt’s style of play was evident in particular with Haughton, who did not see the floor once in his lone season at Pitt last year, despite not having any injuries.


With Nelson-Ododa coming from a program of repute in Richmond, and Maia hailing from a school like Brown, one would think that those two will be able to make the transition. It also appeared that Nix was a player that Pitt was very interested in, meaning that Dixon must have seen a way for the center to fit into the fold.

This triumvirate of big men will be crucial to Pitt’s success this upcoming season. None will be asked to do toomuch, though, as juniors Mike Young and Jamel Artis will likely still start at the five and the four, respectively. But the ability to spell those two with effective post players was something the Panthers sorely lacked last season. If two of the three can be effective next year, Dixon’s gamble will have paid off.

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