It’s a case of good news/bad news for Jamie Dixon and the No. 14 Pittsburgh Panthers.
First the good news: The Panthers are starting to look more like a Pitt team.
The defense and rebounding are getting a little more like what we’re used to seeing, and the Panthers have won five straight and currently sit at 7-1.
They’re also coming off their best win of the season, a true road win Saturday at Tennessee.
But before that win, they got some bad news, when they found out starting point guard Travon Woodall will miss about a month of the season with a groin strain and an abdominal tear.
It’s bad timing for Woodall, who was playing his best basketball as a Panther, averaging 14.1 points per game and 8.3 assists per game through seven contests.
What’s bad for Woodall, though, could be good for some of the younger Pitt guards, including John Johnson and Cameron Wright.
The Panthers were already a much younger team than usual.
Now they just got younger.
Under Dixon, freshmen usually have to warm the bench for a while until it’s their time, but this year is different.
Against Tennessee, Wright and fellow freshman Khem Birch were in the starting lineup, and Johnson came off the bench. All three logged season highs for minutes in a game.
Guard Isaiah Epps also got into the game, making the first time in recent memory that four freshmen have played in a close game against a good opponent.
Also, take into account that Dixon went only ten-deep against the Volunteers, and three of the others were sophomores.
While it may not seem as the most talented Pitt team at the moment, this is the youngest Pitt team in the Dixon era, and they will work into things eventually.
They have to.
It’s unlike Dixon to throw freshmen into the fire, but that exactly what’s he’s had to do with this team. They are going to have to grow up quick.
Especially Wright and Johnson, who will be logging major minutes in the absence of Woodall.
Maybe they are growing up pretty quick. With the game on the line Saturday, it was the freshman Johnson who converted a three-point play to ice the game.
Sometimes learning on the fly can be the best way for these guys to improve.
For the sake of the Panthers season, the Pitt underclassmen are going to have to grow up in a hurry.