As third-ranked Pitt prepares to face Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center, Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon has about three games left to dish out playing time before he has to make the difficult decision to trim back the minutes he gives to some younger players before the Big East season begins.
This is a much more difficult decision for Dixon that it normally would be. This Pitt team is likely the deepest, most talented team in the nine years that Dixon has been at the helm
Once Pitt gets into conference play, naturally Dixon won't go 12 deep into his rotation—nor should he.
Usually this would be an easy decision. Make the younger players sit and earn their time. However, in this case, the younger players on this Pitt team are very talented and can help this team win.
So what should Dixon do?
Of the 13 guys that have been playing so far early in the season, guard Nick Rivers and forward Aron Nwankwo aren't seeing much time now, so they likely won't see much during conference play.
That takes us down to 11 quality bodies. Dixon will likely use only a nine-man rotation, possibly 10 if the game dictates it. That leaves two guys that Dixon has to make a tough decision about.
The easy decision is in the backcourt. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker are your starters and will be on the court a lot. Travon Woodall should also see his usual 20-plus minutes per game.
Dixon's difficult decision is in the frontcourt. Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee likely stay in the starting lineup all season. Now that Nasir Robinson is healthy, he probably moves back into a starting role, which pushes Talib Zanna to the bench.
No need to worry about Zanna, though. Dixon will make sure he gets minutes.
That's seven of nine spots. Forward Dante Taylor looks in shape, and he was going to get minutes anyways.
That leaves us to J.J. Moore, Lamar Patterson and J.J. Richardson fighting for the final spot in the regular rotation. The two freshmen (Moore and Patterson) are very intriguing talents. who look to have very bright futures.
Moore has the ability to be the more explosive scorer, which is a reason to keep him on the floor. Patterson, though, offers Dixon a bit more flexibility, as he has the ability to play both guard and forward.
Patterson likely gets some minutes solely for that reason. As talented as the Panthers' backcourt is, it's also thin. Patterson gives Dixon a fourth guard option, unless he wanted to turn to Rivers, Isaiah Epps or Cameron Wright. That's unlikely, though, because Dixon hasn't used Epps or Wright yet and therefore would be unlikely to use them in a conference game.
So Patterson likely is the ninth guy, but Dixon will give Moore his share of minutes as well. That will give Pitt a solid 10-man rotation, which Dixon hasn't had the luxury of having for an entire season,
That leaves sophomore J.J. Richardson as the odd man out. Richardson could be used as a bigger body, though, if some of the bigs are in foul trouble.
This is a great problem for a coach like Dixon to have. There is no such thing as having too much talent. A couple of these guys may see their minutes drop, but Dixon now has a ton of options to turn to.
This team has the makings of a bright season and bright future for the Panthers basketball program.