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Key injuries will impact Pittsburgh Panthers

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

After beating Duke at Madison Square Garden in December before a rock 'n roll atmosphere, the future looked so bright for Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers. How quickly things can change!

The Panthers were undefeated and ranked sixth in the nation when they headed to Dayton. Brian Roberts, the underrated superstar of the Flyers, put on a show as Dayton punished Pitt 80-55. The loss was their first of the season; however, my friends, their season also took a turn for the worse with the loss of star guard Levance Fields due to a broken foot. Losing Fields and the versatile Mike Cook (ACL injury vs. Duke) could be too much for the Panthers to overcome.

Dixon's team has continued to fight despite adversity. Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin have stepped up in increased playing time, yet the Panthers lost a heartbreaker to Villanova over the weekend. Now Pittsburgh has a couple of important games against South Florida and Seton Hall. Both of them looked like easy Ws before the injury bug hit.

Pittsburgh does have a lot of young talent. DeJuan Blair is one of the premier big men among Big East newcomers. Sam Young is a multi-talented player in the frontcourt. Gilbert Brown has also seen more minutes.

My friends, Dixon is a winner. His mark at Pittsburgh is an impressive 117-32. Of his 32 losses, half of them have come by four points or less. This team will fight hard night in and night out. It may be shorthanded, but the Panthers work hard and play tenacious defense.

Prior to the Duke game it looked like Pitt's toughness and defensive play would have them challenge Big East powers Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville. Now the question is: Can the Panthers regroup and finish in the first half of the highly competitive Big East and earn a trip among the Elite 65 and be part of March Madness? Stay tuned for this scenario to play out as Dixon faces a real challenge after losing two starters in such a short span of time.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.