This senior class has seen a lot in their 4 years at Pitt- the emergence of Aaron Gray, the rise of Pitt to a national power, and now some incredibly high expectations in two out of the last three years in Oakland. Levance Fields, Sam Young, and Tyrell Biggs are all going to see huge amounts of playing time and are the three most important players on this team. A possible Bob Cousy award winner, Big East player of the year, and Big East 6th man of the year respectively, Levance, Sam, and Tyrell are going to have to carry this team throughout a long, tough Big East conference schedule and hopefully to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
#2 Levance Fields (PG, Xaverian HS)- Levance is one of the top point guards in the Big East, if not the entire country, and he proved his worth time and time again in the 2007-2008 season. While he might be best remembered for his game-winning shot against Duke last December, when he proclaimed “I did it for myself, I did it for this team, and I did it for the city of Pittsburgh,” Levance was invaluable during the Panthers run through the Big East tournament. After recovering from a broken foot against Dayton, he lead the Panthers to a few critical wins against Syracuse and Cincinnati to secure an NCAA berth before the Big East tournament. Setting a Pitt season record for assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.18, Levance will be counted on more than ever to run what will be an incredibly explosive Pitt offense. He’ll be relied on less for his scoring this year than in years before, with offensive forces Blair, Young, Brown, and Wanamaker in the starting lineup besides him, and should gather between 6-8 assists per game. Levance has never had double-digit assists in a game before, and I expect that to change very quickly this season. Incredibly good at feeding the ball into the low post for our big men as well as running the fast break, his skill at dictating tempo and understanding this offense is one of the top three reasons Pitt will be ranked in most preseason top-5s. I’m not even going to predict most of Levance’s statistics- he will start every game he is healthy for, will get into the double digits in points or assists based on how his team is performing, and will be one of the best point guards in the country this year. He might not be the biggest player on the court but he’s certainly got the ability to carry the whole team on his back when they need him to.
#5 Tyrell Biggs (PF/C, Don Bosco Prep)- Depending on who you talk to, Tyrell will either be our starter at PF or our sixth man, just as he was last year. I’m not a huge fan of playing experience over skill, and I think Tyrell is a much better sixth man than a starter at PF. Sam Young definitely doesn’t have typical PF size, but he proved last year the mismatches he creates on the outside are better than the size disadvantage he creates. Tyrell is a fantastic 6th man- he’s capable of playing big minutes at both the 4 and the 5, running the floor with the Pitt offense of new or playing half-court like the Pitt teams of 2005 and 2006, rebounding, passing, and he’s now added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal. Tyrell was 3rd on the team in rebounding last year in averaging 20 minutes per game off the bench, and I think having that 6th man mentality is a good thing to have. It’s sort of like baseball’s version of a closer—some players are just better at coming off the bench than they are at starting. I think against really tall teams we might see Biggs start at the 4, but his minutes will be consistent no matter if he starts or comes off the bench. Tyrell is this year’s Keith Benjamin- a seasoned starter who is not expected to start but would fill in more than adequately for anything he is called upon to do.
#23 Sam Young (SF/PF, Hargrove Military Academy)- What is there to say about Sam Young that hasn’t been said already? Big East first team, All-American honorable mention, Big East Most Improved Player, Pitt MVP, Big East Tournament MVP and budding superstar for this Panthers program, Sam took his game to new heights last year, his first as a starter after taking a backseat to Levon Kendall his sophomore year, the year that many Pitt fans saw glimpses of the brilliance of Sam’s 2007-2008 season. When Sam made his decision to return to Pitt following last year instead of trying for the NBA, Pitt was immediately included in the discussion for the top 5 teams in the country. Sure, he had some times where his defense was a little lacking, and sometimes it was a bit of a scare when he put the ball on the ground too much, but his beautiful shot-fake and great athletic ability more than made up for his misgivings. Sam has the unique ability to literally take over a game on both ends of the court- make a huge block on defense, pull in the rebound, then take the ball up court and energize (or silence) an entire stadium with a thunderous dunk or drain the ball from beyond the arc. He can use his athletic ability to defend players a few inches above his 6’6” frame, an assest that will serve him well in the NBA. This summer, Sam’s been working on his shooting range and his dribble, adding another facet to his already deadly offensive arsenal. The senior most likely to be drafted by the NBA, Sam has to prove this season that he’s capable of playing the 3 as well as the 4, so I’d expect to see him switch down to the SF position at times instead of just taking a seat on the bench when Tyrell comes into the game. He could easily average 20 points per game this season, though the amount of offensive weapons on this team could keep that to a more realistic 17 points, depending on the minutes and injuries to the rest of the team. I’d expect a solid block, steal, and 7 rebounds per game from Sam, his versatility one of the main reasons he’s so dangerous all over the court. Sam Young by himself is a reason to go to see a Pitt Panthers basketball game, and he rounds out this incredible Pitt senior class.
This is the last post in my season preview by class, and I’ll put up my thoughts on the Pitt team both before and after Media Day (October 16th, next Thursday) in preperation for November 4th’s season opener. This year we’re going to have some interesting analysis on our games, helped out by students and writers from other schools, so keep tuned to the Oakland Zoo! Also, we’re still looking for emails at TheZooBlog@gmail.com so keep those emails coming!