|No. 13 Pitt without 2 key starters as Big East play approaches|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 31 December 2007 13:17|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -Levance Fields arguably is the one player No. 13 Pittsburgh could least afford to lose.|
Sam Young is developing into the Panthers' most reliable scorer and 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair is developing into the most polished freshman post player they've had in years. But until Fields broke his left foot during an 80-55 loss Saturday at No. 29 Dayton, everything Pitt did revolved around its junior point guard.
Fields isn't an exceptional scorer or a skilled 3-point shooter, yet often was the player who took the key shots late in a game. His 3-pointer to beat then-No. 6 Duke 65-64 on Dec. 20 is one of Pitt's biggest clutch shots since it joined the Big East 25 years ago.
Now, Pitt may play the rest of the regular season without Fields and small forward Mike Cook, who tore up a knee against Duke in what will be his final college game. Losing either player would have been difficult for Pitt, but losing both could be devastating.
In only 10 days, Pitt has gone from being a Top 10 team with Big East championship-type talent - it jumped to No. 6 after beating Duke - to likely being a middle-of-the-pack team that isn't a lock for the NCAA tournament.
The Panthers may not learn Wednesday night against Lafayette (8-4) how much they miss Fields, who leads the team in assists (5.4), is second in scoring (11.9) and has nearly three times as many assists (65) as he does turnovers (23).
But as they regroup from the school's worst loss since a 76-50 defeat to Tennessee in 1999, the Panthers may get a much better idea of how their conference season will go when they open Big East play Sunday at No. 17 Villanova.
``We've got confidence in the guys we're putting out there,'' coach Jamie Dixon said.
Only the Panthers don't have nearly as many players as they originally projected.
They were down two players even before Cook and Fields were hurt. Reserve forward Austin Wallace injured a knee Dec. 7 and was lost for the season and freshman swingman Darnell Dodson transferred to Miami Dade College when the NCAA didn't clear him academically.
Pitt is down to nine scholarship players and three scholarship guards, with only freshman Brad Wanamaker (3.1 points per game) and walk-on Tim Frye to back up starting guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin.
Wanamaker didn't score in 15 minutes against Dayton. Gilbert Brown, a redshirt freshman who is starting earlier in his career than projected because of Cook's injury, had only three points on 1-for-8 shooting in 26 minutes.
``I have a lot of confidence in Gilbert and Bradley,'' Dixon said. ``I know they are going to play better than they did (against Dayton). They are going to bring different things to the table. They can bring some rebounding. ... We'll get good stuff out of them as it goes. We're going to be fine there.''
Between them, Fields and Cook (10.4) were combining for nearly one-third of Pitt's offense. More of the offensive burden shifts now to Young (17.5 points) and Blair (11.8 points), and Benjamin (6.0 points) also needs to score more.
Fields hopes to return this season but, even if he misses only the minimum eight weeks Pitt is projecting, he wouldn't return until late in the Big East season. If it's the maximum 12 weeks, he couldn't return until the NCAA tournament was under way.
The schedule won't help, either; four of the Panthers' first six Big East games are on the road. They play at No. 17 Villanova, South Florida, Cincinnati and St. John's around home games against Seton Hall and No. 7 Georgetown.
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