Big East Basketball: Pitt Panthers Will Contend for Big East Title in 2012-13

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IJune 28, 2012

Big East Basketball: Pitt Panthers Will Contend for Big East Title in 2012-13

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    Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Panthers slugged their way through a painful 2011-12 campaign.

    Last year was the first time that the Panthers have not made it into the NCAA tournament on Dixon's nine-year watch.

    The Panthers only won five of their 18 Big East regular-season games—the first time that Pitt had not won at least 10 conference games since the 2000-01 season.

    If Pitt had not won five of their last six games (in the college basketball invitational (CBI) tournament), they could have finished with a dismal .500 season.

    With all of this gloom and doom, you might think that the outlook for the upcoming season may not be so bright. Not true.

    To put it simply: Last season was a fluke. A glitch. An anomaly. 

    In fact, Pitt will be right back in the mix of things in the 2012-13 season.

    Here are five reasons why Pitt will go from finishing No. 13 in the conference to contending for the Big East title.

5. Jamie Dixon Is a Great Coach

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    You don't average over 26 wins a season for nine years in the Big East by being lucky.

    Jamie Dixon has more than proven himself to be a fantastic college basketball coach.

    He recruits well and then gets his teams to play hard, smart basketball.

    His Pitt teams are known for playing tough defense and crashing the boards like nobody's business.

    The team that will take the court this fall/winter will return to being a typical Dixon team that will be gritty, physical and deep.

4. Talib Zanna Will Have a Breakout Season

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    If Talib Zanna continues to play like he did in the 2011-12 postseason, the Panthers will be tough to handle up front.

    Zanna struggled during the regular season but found his footing in the CBI tournament, scoring in double digits in five of Pitt's six games in the tournament. He averaged 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and converted 73.7 percent (28-of-38) of his field-goal attempts in those six games.

    On the season, playing less than 20 minutes per game, the 6'9" sophomore forward from Nigeria was the team's No. 2 rebounder (5.5 RPG) while scoring 6.3 points per game.

    He shot 57.1 percent from the field and was the team's best defensive player.

    One of the reasons why Zanna is emerging as an interior force is the fact that he faces stiff competition every day in practice going up against former 5-star recruit Dante Taylor (who just might be ready to put it all together for his senior season). They should form a two-headed monster at power forward.

    If Zanna can learn to play effectively with incoming freshman Steven Adams, the Panthers will have one of the most scary frontcourts in the conference.

3. The Panthers' Co-MVPs Are Both Back and Ready to Ball

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    Tray Woodall (pictured) and Lamar Patterson weren't happy about how last season unfolded.

    Even though both players individually did well in 2011-12, the Panthers' co-MVPs have a bad taste in their mouth that they want to get rid of as soon as possible.

    Woodall, Pitt's talented point guard, missed 11 games last year with a groin injury. Even though he had to fight through this, the 5'11" floor leader from Brooklyn still averaged 11.7 points and 6.1 assists per game.

    Patterson, a 6'5" 225-lb wing, averaged 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

    This perimeter tandem will be ready to battle as the 2012-13 season opens. No repeat performances of last year's struggles.

2. The Addition of Trey Zeigler Will Be a Huge Boost to the Panthers Offense

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    Thanks to the NCAA granting Trey Zeigler's request for immediate eligibility, Jamie Dixon will have another perimeter weapon to put alongside Woodall and Patterson.

    Zeigler can score in bunches, plays tough defense and rebounds well from the wing.

    In two seasons playing for his dad at Central Michigan, the 6'5'' guard scored 16.0 points per game, pulled down 6.1 rebounds per game and handed out 2.3 assists per game.

    If the Panthers had trouble putting the ball in the basket last season, Zeigler will solve that problem quickly.

1. Two Words: Steven Adams

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    Jamie Dixon pulled off a major recruiting coup when he signed the 7'0" New Zealander.

    Adams has a full arsenal of offensive skills that allow him to post up and punish opponents or face up and drain jumpers out to 15 feet.

    He plays hard from the time he steps on the court and uses his size, skill and athleticism to impact the game in multiple ways.

    Adams is the kind of player that doesn't have to score to contribute, but he should have no problem getting his shots or points even playing with teammates as potent as Woodall, Patterson and Zeigler.