After a 1-4 start to the season, The Panthers have put together 4 straight wins, some closer than others but 4 wins none less. During that stretch we have seen the emergence of several Freshman. Not to mention one of the very few players that has been in the system for a while taking steps forward. We will go into what the Panthers have to do to stick with Mountaineers in this years version of the Backyard Brawl. First let’s take a look at some of the early season improvements and recent steps back.
Individual Player Improvement: We have seen several Freshman taking steps forward in the first portion of the season, none more than Marcus Carr. The Young guard from Ontario Canada has been Pitt’s leading scorer in recent games including a 23 point outburst in the Mount St. Mary’s game on Monday. He is good from the line and behind the arc. As a guard, he is called on to not just run the team but also score the ball and he has been able to do both. What is even more impressive is listening to him in a post game presser and how he interacts with the press… just as a freshman is so impressive. He is showing some great leadership in those interactions.
Then there is Fellow Freshman and Ontario native Shamiel Stevenson that has been one of Pitt’s most consistent players averaging double digit scoring and playing an aggressive style of defense. He takes the ball to the hoop and can shoot from behind the arc. Although his body makeup reminds me a great deal of Jerome Lane if you can harken back to some of Pitt’s Glory Days. Stevenson does like to “Send it in Shamiel!” When he gets a chance of course.
Khameron Davis struggled very early this season with injury. With his health vastly improving, so has his game. He has a nice touch from outside and is Pitt’s best defender. After the Mount St Mary’s game when asked about the Brawl, Coach Stallings joked that he hopes Kham is up for what they are about to face this weekend.
A Sophomore that has shown some drastic improvement since that first week or two is Kene Chukwuka. He has 6’9”forward/center for the Panthers and is also new to the system. He is really starting to get his feet under him and is contributing more consistently on defense especially over the last couple of games.
He has been more noticeable for sure averaging 4 rebounds in the last 2 games and getting blocks in each game. He is also playing 15 minutes a game and is able to spell Luther when he needs a blow, not to mention he can go in with him to give the Panthers a bigger team on the court. Although he is only averaging 2.8 points a game, his contributions on defense and getting a few assists are very important.
Another Big man who has taken some steps this year is Ryan Luther. Luther in years past has been Pitt’s 6 man and their most important guy off the bench. On this team though, he is very important because he has the most experience and is playing over 30 minutes a game. He has played important games in the ACC against top talent and understands what is ahead of them.
Luther is a guy that contributes heavy on defense but is very inconsistent on offense. Case in point, he grabbed 16 rebounds in the game against Mount St. Mary’s while he struggled mightily from the field finishing with less than a handful of points. For the season, he is averaging just under 13 points a game, with 9.9 rebounds per game.
His hands have improved as he has grabbed 15 steals, although he has turned the ball over at an alarming rate. That turnover issue is actually something that is running rampant on this entire team thus far. I believe the team’s turnover issues can be explained away when you see that this team had never played together before this year so CHEMISTRY is still being developed. Not knowing where your guys are going to be is something that can cause some turnovers. Not to mention, young players tend to be turnover machines just because of their overall lack of experience in Major College Basketball.
That topic leads me to Jonathan Milligan who is one of Pitt’s 2 returning senior players. Milligan saw some good improvement during a 4 or 5 game stretch although that has slowed in his last two outings. In the Duquesne game, he scored only 4 points in 29 minutes and 3 points in 19 minutes against Mount St. Mary’s. What Milligan does done fairly well throughout the season is handle the ball and distribute it. He is averaging around 3 assists a game in his last handful. Not a huge number I realize, but he is also getting used to a new guys surrounding him.
Going Backwards: In recent games we have seen Jared Wilson-Frame struggle a bit from the field which is not what we saw early on in the season. He is a big body that gets into good positions to shoot, although he has not finished well in his last 2 or 3 games. Missing open shots Including shots around the rim on dribble drives. He is a guy that has shown enough talent to be a good player at this level, but they need him to finish more often then not.
An issue he could be facing could be the pressure mounting on him as he tries to do too much. Early on he was Pitt’s go to for points. He referenced as much in the post game against the Mount when he said that he is one of the older more experience player and he is trying to help the younger guys. Sometimes a player can lose his own touch trying to step into that leadership role.
Stallings Leading the Way: IN their last victory, Coach Kevin Stallings after the game fell on his own sword and said he did not have his guys ready with the right edge for the game. He said he has to do a better job getting them to that point. He knew it going into that game with Mount St. Mary’s so he was happy they were able to fight through and get a win. With that said, he plainly stated after the game that “we are not a team right now that can win without that edge.”
For one game, he was wrong… if they come out on Saturday with that same frame of mind, it will the result will be worst then the Penn State game.
If you have not been living under a rock, you probably have seen video of Coach Stallings playing the guitar at Children’s Hospital. Here is Kevin and the guys performing for the kids. It’s good stuff.
— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) November 17, 2017
The Backyard Brawl:
WVU comes into this contest ranked 18th and with a record of 8-1. They just beat #15 Virginia 68-61 with and are led by Javon Carter who is averaging just under 20 points and 5 rebounds a game. Daxter miles is also having a great season as he is averaging 14 points and 3 rebounds. These are both players that defend and score the ball very well.
Lamont West is another one of those star players for Future Hall of Fame Coach Bob Huggins having a good season averaging double digit points. Oh yea, that is the other thing. Not only are they talented but Huggins has them humming with the famous “press virginia” full court press.
The Panthers youth and lack of Chemistry has made them very susceptible to turnovers. Pitt is currently averaging just over 14 turnovers a game which is a bit skewed because of that ugly 22 turnover game against Highpoint. What Pitt has done to combat that is shoot well. The Panthers have actually shot 46% from the field which is a pretty good number. They are shooting over 34% from behind the arc for the season. In recent games, they have shot either over 50% or right at that number.
The issue is, they just are not getting enough shots.
If Pitt gets into a track meet with West Virginia they are in trouble. That is when the Panthers have turned the ball over. If they are going to keep this game close, they need to stay focused on every inbounds play or the night will end quickly. The Mountaineers size is not an issue, but their athleticism and experience will be.