DeJuan Blair may be the most important player to his team in the country.
He is certainly the toughest, strongest, and nastiest player in the paint. He comes up big in important games, and may even body slam the opposition.
Blair is not the tallest guy in the paint, but he plays with an intensity that is unequaled in college basketball. He is poised to lead the Pittsburgh Panthers deeper in the NCAA Tournament than ever before.
Just ask UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet what it is like to try to wrestle a rebound away from Blair. Thabeet ended up on his back, and might as well have stayed there. Blair finished with 22 points and 23 rebounds as Pitt left Connecticut with a 76-68 victory, which was the first of two victories over UConn this season.
Blair is averaging 15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. These numbers are not staggering by any means. It is unlikely that he will put 30 points on the board in any game, granted he showed a phenomenal scoring touch in Pitt’s win at UConn.
It is the presence that Blair brings to the paint that makes him so valuable. Standing at 6’7” and 265 pounds, Blair is an immovable object under the basket. Guards are afraid to challenge him, and even opposing centers have trouble moving his low center of gravity.
Pitt’s three losses this year came when Blair missed significant time due to foul trouble. Blair played only 20 minutes in the team's loss at Louisville and 23 minutes in a loss to Villanova. He played significant time with four fouls in Pitt’s loss to Providence.
Pitt barely escaped Rutgers early in the season, when Blair played only eight minutes after accumulating four fouls early.
The Panthers have talented guards in Sam Young and Levance Fields. They are great perimeter players, but they lack depth inside. If Blair misses any significant time in the NCAA Tournament, then Pitt will be in a lot of trouble.
The team is talented, but they are just that, a team.
If their big gun goes down, they do not have the athleticism at guard to match up with the elite teams in the country. Not to mention that if they come across Blake Griffin or Tyler Hansbrough, things could get ugly without Blair inside.
Pitt relies on a balanced offensive attack and a ferocious shutdown defense. When all their pieces are fitting together, they have shown that they are the best team in the country. It all starts with the big man in the middle.
Blair may not score a lot, but he is capable of putting up points when they are needed. Young has also shown the ability to score, but he is a very streaky player and relies on the double teams that Blair draws down low to create open shots.
This is shaping up to be Pitt’s year. They should finally break through the Sweet 16 and find themselves in Detroit for the Final Four. They had a phenomenal season with one of the nation’s toughest schedules in the best conference in basketball.
They have the one weapon that can neutralize anyone under the hoop. That weapon is Blair, and he is poised to take Pitt basketball to another level.