When Ashton Gibbs announced that he was returning for his senior season over the summer, it was assumed that he would continue to build off of his tremendous season from a year ago. The reason for the return was generally to improve in some key areas that gave NBA scouts some worries - mainly being able to create his own shot. Unfortunately, not only did that not really happen, but his bread and butter, shooting from the perimeter, has dissolved as well.
Getting back to that first point - It was somewhat clear during the non-conference portion (and painfully obvious during conference play) that Gibbs still couldn't create his own shot. He still wasn't strong enough to drive into the lane and draw fouls, and when Tray Woodall was out or playing poorly, he had a lot of trouble scoring. With Woodall out of the picture, defenses would double up on Gibbs and his shooting numbers suffered as a result. He would get his double figures, but they came at the expense of taking several shots.
I agree with what Chris Dokish says here in his diagnosis of next year's team.
There's no denying that Gibbs can be a great shooter, but with his struggles this season, here's the thing. During his breakout sophomore and junior seasons, when Pitt would have Brad Wanamaker or Gilbert Brown or even Woodall with Gibbs on the floor, teams wouldn't be able to focus in on him because those three were capable scorers. Their scoring ability would allow Gibbs to get open for shots, but with Wanamaker and Brown gone and Woodall dealing with injuries, defenses have been able to shut him down by forcing him to create his own shot ... which he struggles to do.
This would lead to Gibbs getting frustrated, probably because he wasn't putting up the numbers he had grown accustomed to. This became very clear during the game in Tampa against South Florida, where Jamie Dixon had to pull him from the game in the second half because of his frustration and temper. Now those remarks from Khem Birch are beginning to make some sense...
"I remember when some people didn't get what they wanted, during a half, if they didn't score a certain amount of points, during halftime, it would be silence from those players. It wasn't like they were happy. Even if we were winning, they would just get mad because they didn't get what they wanted."
Yes, it seems like I'm really ripping into Gibbs - particularly because he has been a great player for Pitt for the past four seasons. But Pitt basketball isn't about one player - it's about teamwork, leadership, toughness, and playing with heart and to be honest, I haven't seen a whole lot of any of those from Gibbs. We can't attribute all of Pitt's woes to him, but it's got to start with him. As a senior on this team, he had to be the one to bring the team together when times got tough and make things happen. I've been waiting all season for him or Nasir Robinson to just step up and be the vocal leader of this team, especially during the eight-game losing streak. Even though we're not privy to locker room conversations, it feels like neither of them has done that.
With Gibbs graduating, it's easy to think that Pitt is going to severely struggle on the offensive end without his presence. I'm going to hold off on that judgement until next season because I think with everyone a year older and James Robinson and Steven Adams coming in that Pitt could actually improve offensively. Robinson is a fantastic ball handler and defender, and while he's only going to be a true freshman, he could be the type of floor general that Levance Fields was for Pitt in the upcoming seasons.