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ACC Basketball Previews: Pittsburgh

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David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Last year: 26-10 (11-7 ACC), KenPom #19, RPI #39

Projected Starters
James Robinson, G - 6'3, 198, junior
Josh Newkirk, G - 6'1, 185, sophomore
Cameron Wright, G/F - 6'5, 205, redshirt senior
Michael Young, F - 6'9, 235, sophomore
Derrick Randall, F - 6'9, 240, senior

Expected Contributors
Durand Johnson, F - 6'6, 210, redshirt junior
Chris Jones, G/F - 6'6, 213, redshirt sophomore
Jamel Artis, F - 6'7, 220, sophomore
Sheldon Jeter, F - 6'8, 225, redshirt sophomore

Is this finally the year?

It's been 70-plus years since Pitt made it to a Final Four. The last time Pitt played in what's become basketball's biggest weekend, there was no three-point line, shorts went roughly to mid-groin, and the NCAA Tournament had all of 8 teams.

Jamie Dixon is hoping that a roster loaded with returning starters helps write a new history for the Panthers. Despite losing All-ACC second-teamer Lamar Patterson and rebound machine Talib Zanna, the 2014-15 Panthers count three returning starters off a team that won more than 20 games for the 13th consecutive season—and get back Durand Johnson, who missed most of last year with a knee injury.

Johnson adds depth to a stacked Pitt frontcourt. At any given moment, Dixon can run three (or more) players standing 6'6 or better. That kind of length helps explain why the 2013-14 Pitt squad ranked in the top thirty in steal-percentage and offensive rebounding.

Pitt's M.O. in 2014 was beating the teams they were supposed to beat—but not much of anybody else. The next step up for Dixon's squad is to get wins that are available, but not givens. The Panthers play Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina at home, three of the five teams ahead of them in KenPom's preseason ACC ratings. A win in two of those three games, with road wins against the ACC's third- and fourth-tier teams, would put Pitt in good position to contend for an ACC regular-season title.

Virginia plays Pitt only once, a February 16th matchup in Charlottesville.