By: Chris Gates

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — The front court problems that had Pitt fans down in the dumps after a loss to Long Beach State have taken a sharp turn for the better in the form of freshman forward Khem Birch.

Not that there isn’t still work to do, but Birch has all of a sudden arrived in his last five quarters of basketball at Pitt and has shown fans a lot of what he was hyped up to be — a strong rebounder and shot blocker that has great court vision and offensive ability.

After a lackluster first half by the Panthers against La Salle three games ago, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon put Birch in for extended minutes in the second half. The result was a couple thunderous dunks and a sizeable rebounding edge, resulting in a 73-69 Pitt win.

On Friday, Birch got his first career start against Penn because junior forward Dante Taylor suffered from headaches. Birch took advantage of the opportunity, registering a double-double as the Panthers won, 78-58. He scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 28 minutes of play.

Birch shot 6-for-8 against the Quakers, trailing only Ashton Gibbs’ 16 points in scoring on the night as Pitt shot nearly 60 percent from the field.

“I was really nervous,” Birch said after the game.

Nobody noticed.

Then on Monday, against cross-town rival Robert Morris, Birch showed us what his kind of block party looks like, turning aside six RMU shots, scoring eight points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

He had Colonials head coach Andy Toole puzzled and RMU guard Velton Jones saying things like, “We haven’t really seen anybody like that.”

Even Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who is rarely vocally impressed and tends to give most of the playing time to his upper classmen, had kind remarks on Birch after each game.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable,” Dixon said after the win against Penn. “He’s got a good feel. That’s something you can’t teach.”

What Birch has done in a short period of time is just what Pitt needs. To open the season there was very little quality depth behind starters Taylor and Nasir Robinson in the front court. Birch is showing us he can provide that.

With more playing time Birch seems to get stronger and stronger. And as his time increases Pitt’s woes in the paint slowly decrease.

Welcome to Pitt, Mr. Birch. You’re a welcome sight.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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