Key Losses: G Yuri Demetris (3.8 ppg, 2.4 apg), F Mark McCarroll (2.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg), F/C Chris Taft (13.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg), F Chevon Troutman (15.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
Postseason: NCAA: Lost to Pacific 79–71 in the first round
Nanuet, NY/Don Bosco (NJ) Prep
Odessa, FL/Oldsmar Christian Academy
Eleutheray, Bahamas/Roane State (TN) CC
Clinton, MD/Hargrave (VA) Military Academy
The Panthers landed two of the top players in the New York-New Jersey area in Fields and Biggs. Fields averaged 27 points and was a standout at the Michael Jordan Classic. Biggs is expected to take over for the departed Chevon Troutman. Though he's less heralded, Young could be the prize of the class. The human dunk machine averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds last season. Sharpshooter Ferguson and work-in-progress center Hudson round out the class.
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Panthers senior point guard Carl Krauser waited and waited and waited and waited. Then, on July 22, the flashy floor general said those three magic words: "I'll be back."
Instantaneously, Pittsburgh went from potential Big East also-ran to a team that will be fighting for its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Krauser had contemplated an early jump to the pros, but after consulting with those close to him, the brash New Yorker performed one of his patented crossover moves and reversed direction. "Everyone kept telling me how much they needed me," said Krauser, a second-team All-Big East pick in 2005 and Pittsburgh's leading scorer the past two seasons.
His decision could be invaluable to a program that endured the loss of forward Chevon Troutman (graduation) and center Chris Taft, who jumped to the NBA after just two seasons.
Still, coach Jamie Dixon must rely on a relatively untested group as he looks to improve on a 20-9 record and first-round loss in the NCAA tournament. "We've been losing players the past couple of years, and we've been replacing them enough to get the job done," says Dixon. "It's been a challenge."
Incoming freshmen Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young, both of whom had sparkling prep careers, must make an immediate impact for the Panthers to compete in the supersized Big East. If they are as good as advertised, they could help ease the losses of Troutman and four-year letterwinner Mark McCarroll at the forward spots.
Biggs is big -- at 6-foot-8, 260-pounds -- and brings with him lofty credentials. He was courted by programs such as Connecticut, Syracuse and Maryland, all of which were impressed with his ability to pound the ball inside or step out and hit a 15-footer. The Nanuet, N.Y., native has drawn comparisons to Boston College power forward Craig Smith, a first-team All-Big East pick the past two seasons.
Biggs' size and strength should compensate for the loss of the menacing Troutman, though Biggs must become accustomed to the Panthers' defense-first style.
Young is a 6-6 leaper who led Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy to a No. 2 ranking in the nation last year. He has the potential to provide scoring and rebounding at a position that was a major deficiency last season. Pittsburgh's small forwards were sporadic at best, forcing Dixon to tinker constantly with his lineup. Young adds an athletic component that returnees John DeGroat (1.9 ppg) and Team Canada member Levon Kendall (3.5 ppg) cannot offer. Kendall, a good shooter who started eight games in '04-05, appeared to have lost confidence in the late stages of last season, while DeGroat never had a defined role.
At center, the Panthers have put their hopes in 7-footer Aaron Gray. The space-eating junior averaged 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game.
The return of Krauser should give Pittsburgh one of the better backcourts in the Big East, although it's still young.
Like Krauser, freshman Levance Fields is a New York City product with a flair for making big plays. He once scored 20 points in the final six minutes of a prep game and could either spell or team up with Krauser. Sophomore Ronald Ramon, a 3-point specialist who was hampered by a shoulder injury at the end of last season, will likely be used as a combo guard. Despite his slow finish, Ramon is capable of a breakout year.
Antonio Graves returns as the starting shooting guard, but supremely athletic Keith Benjamin will push Graves for playing time -- if not his starting job. The talented sophomore showed signs of living up to his high school reputation on several occasions last season. Dixon might want to employ a three-guard offense given the amount of depth he has in the backcourt.
Krauser showed last season that he can take over a game at any time, but he also proved that one man can't do it alone, as evidenced by a 1.4-to-1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
He must distribute the ball to his young teammates and help to build their confidence early. Otherwise, the Panthers will be on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament.