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Dixon needs to define roles, use Benjamin

| Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Now that Pitt's season has reached the single-elimination phase, do you suppose coach Jamie Dixon will decide on a regular rotation?

Or will he become the first college basketball coach to change players on the fly?

Yo, Jamie, it's mid-March. Time to decide who can play and who can't.

Why did we see Keith Benjamin singe Syracuse for 10 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes, only to be packed away in mothballs after a bad game a week later?

Why did we see John DeGroat burn Boston College for 10 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes, only to be buried after a shaky encore at Notre Dame?

Dixon might as well install a revolving door at the bench. From this angle, it's clear that his schizophrenic substitution patterns are partly responsible for Pitt staggering into the NCAA Tournament with four losses in six games.

A handful of players are confused about their roles. All they know is that Dixon has a short leash -- and that can breed the sort of apprehension seen on certain faces against Villanova.

Dixon changes players the way Justin Timberlake changes girlfriends. You never know who's next or why the last one disappeared.

Try to follow the bouncing ball: Mark McCarroll goes from Single-Digit Minute Man to (largely ineffective) starter. Levon Kendall goes from Mr. DNP to starter to little-used reserve. Antonio Graves inherits Yuri Demetris' role as The Guy Who Plays Too Much. Aaron Gray's minutes shrink soon after a career game at Villanova. Ronald Ramon goes 11 consecutive games without making half his shots but regularly logs as much time as Chris Taft, who sits out the final 4:21 against West Virginia despite one of his liveliest efforts.

OK, breathe.

The Benjamin case is especially perplexing. Touted as one of the top 150 recruits in the country, the 6-2 guard has battled injuries, but it sure looked as if the Syracuse game was his coming-out party.

Two games later, Benjamin struggled through 27 minutes at West Virginia and subsequently was demoted. He didn't play double figures in minutes the rest of the regular season. In fact, he'd played one minute, total, in the previous four games when he was thrust into the Villanova game with about two minutes left in the first half. No wonder he was tentative, although he also flashed an ability to get in the lane and score. Only Carl Krauser had more points than Benjamin's six in the second half.

With a possible second-round matchup looming against ultra-athletic top seed Washington, Dixon would be wise to work the rust off of Benjamin and/or DeGroat.

Graves deserves credit for hitting some big shots this season, but he should not be playing more minutes per game than Taft, unless he's having a particularly stellar night.

The smallish Ramon has a promising future but is primarily a shooter. If he's not connecting, he's not much help. Pitt played a near-perfect game at BC despite Ramon playing only 14 minutes.

You pretty much know what you're getting with Chevon Troutman and Krauser, and Taft usually puts up respectable numbers. It's the other guys who'll go a long way to determining Pitt's fate, and they don't appear to be brimming with confidence at the moment.

Maybe it's because they are afraid that one false move will earn them a long-term lease in Dixon's doghouse.

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