Pittsburgh Basketball: Coaches Pick Panthers to Win Big East

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2010

MILWAUKEE - MARCH 21:  Head coach Jamie Dixon of the Pittsburgh Panthers calls out in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Bradley Center on March 21, 2010 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I know we are smack dab in the middle of college football season, but it's never too early to start talking college basketball.

The University of Pittsburgh Panthers are looking to finally take that elusive step to the Final Four this season. The other coaches in the Big East recognized their talent, voting Pitt as the team to beat in the conference this season.

Jamie Dixon's bunch is the only Big East team to win at least 10 conference games in each of the past nine seasons, and this season projects to be just as good. That's an impressive run for Dixon, considering he's in a league that has produced six Final Four teams and two national champions over that span, and is a yearly lock to send half of its 16 teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Pitt received 12 of the 16 first-place votes. Last season's regular season champion, Syracuse, received two first-place votes, while Villanova and St. Johns received one vote apiece. 

Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team.

Pitt brings back a wealth of talent, led by guard Ashton Gibbs, who was also voted to the Big East Preseason First Team, joining Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall, Corey Fisher of Villanova, Kemba Walker of Connecticut, Austin Freeman of Georgetown, and Kevin Jones of West Virginia.

Freeman was voted as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

For the Panthers, the expectations are high because four starters and seven of eight rotation players are back from a team that had a surprising 25-9 record last season and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This has a chance to be one of the deepest of coach Jamie Dixon's eight teams.

There won't be a superstar like a Sam Young or DeJaun Blair, but the overall talent level is very good. They have talent in every area: outside shooting, playmaking, rebounding, and defending. 

Filling up the stat sheet shouldn't be a problem this season for the Panthers. While one guy likely won't do it, a combination of players will make Pitt a handful to play against on a nightly basis.

In a system that demands every player wearing a Pitt uniform be committed on the defensive end of the floor, recruiting top-notch athletes has always been a minor issue. 

Not anymore. 

This could be one of the most athletic teams in Pitt history. Dixon, already one of the best coaches in the nation, has added talented 6-foot-6 freshman J.J. Moore and 6-4 freshman Cameron Wright to a lineup that already had a good bit of athleticism coming back.

While the Panthers on the floor have gotten more athletic, the rock of the program is Dixon. This could be the season he gets the Panthers over the hump and makes a lengthy run in March.

The rest of the coaches in the Big East may already see it coming.