The Pitt men's basketball team has three returning starters and all three showed in the first exhibition game that they are indeed going to be the team's best players this year.
Seniors Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson and sophomore James Robinson combined for 43 points and 19 rebounds Friday as the Panthers beat UC San Diego, 72-59.
But they -- along with junior Cameron Wright, who is also an experienced player and will likely start at shooting guard -- all had to play more than 30 minutes because the game was a little too close for comfort.
Those four are the known commodities on the team and, to a lesser extent, so is redshirt sophomore Durand Johnson. But this exhibition season is about building depth and finding younger players who will be able to step into the lineup and give the team quality minutes off the bench.
To that end Friday, Dixon may have found one freshman who is ready to contribute almost immediately and that is 6-foot-8 forward Michael Young, who is from Duquesne but played at St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey.
Young played only 18 minutes but scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, showing the kind of athleticism and scoring touch Pitt hoped he would bring when he was recruited.
But Young also showed some intensity and physicality, and those are things freshmen sometimes struggle with as they transition to college.
"It was a different experience from high school to college," Young said. "The game's a lot faster, physical and you have to play a lot harder. Overall, it was a fun experience to be out there [in a] late-game situation and be out there to make plays and get the win for my team."
Dixon said Young showed a lot down the stretch because he came up with some big plays when the Tritons were threatening to take a late lead.
"Mike did a great job at the end of the game, he made some plays," Dixon said. "That was really encouraging to see a freshman do some really good things to help us win the game."
Young's game was even more impressive considering he was playing out of his likely position of power forward and at center because the Panthers had two back-up centers, Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo, out with injuries.
Beyond Young, the bench has some work to do to get to the point where Dixon can feel good about his rotation.
Redshirt freshman Chris Jones played eight minutes and had just one point, freshman forward Jamel Artis played only seven minutes and had no points and one rebound and freshman guard Josh Newkirk played 12 minutes with three points and an assist.
Johnson started, played 19 minutes, scored six points and grabbed three rebounds, which is encouraging because he is likely to come off the bench once the season begins and the Panthers are healthy.
Dixon said all 11 scholarship players on the roster will have to play and contribute, and he knows the Panthers need a lot of work. But he also knows it is early.
"We had some freshmen that hadn't done a lot, so I gained some trust in them, as well, in October so that's good," Dixon said. "Everybody talks about these exhibition games but they're good because they give you something different to play against.
"It's October and I think our guys know that they're better than this."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-262-1720: @paulzeise