Life can be difficult when you're the top name on the opposing teams scouting report. While one can argue that junior forward Jamel Artis currently occupies that spot, there is no denying that his classmate Michael Young is right there with him and perhaps at the top coming out of the non-conference portion of the schedule. I've praised Young to the point where one might wonder if we're related, we aren't. Despite getting the job done in the last three games, there's been a noticeable difference in how teams are defending him.
Prior to the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts, Young was the only player in the ACC that ranked in the top-15 in per game scoring, rebounding, and assists. At nearly 3.7 dimes per contest, Young was only behind every point guard in the ACC. Since that time, he's now dropped to 2.9 assists per game, only one in his last three contests, and has dropped out of the top-20. Look, the fact that he was that high towards the end of non-conference play speaks volumes about his versatility. Whether or not that was sustainable is a completely different debate.
The reality is teams watch film. Through the first 10 games, Young was often able to take one or more dribbles before help would come. Typically, the help would come the defender guarding whatever player was on the strong side wing or corner. The timing on the help was spotty, and subject to the opponent, but often Young was able to both stay in rhythm and dribble away from the double team or he would look for a scoring opportunity. Additionally, any pass back out to the wing led to a three-point attempt by either senior point guard James Robinson or guard Sterling Smith, the graduate transfer - both were connecting at solid rates early in the season.
Film would also reveal that Young has a lot of tools at his disposal if you allow him to catch it around the elbow, particularly the left. He has a decent jab step that can soften the defender for a jumper, or one powerful dribble off that motion to get to the rim. His vision and the angles of passes available at that spot on the floor are also favorable. So what happened?
For starters, Western Carolina changed their defense on nearly every possession. The help defense started coming from unexpected places which helped mask where the holes were in the defense and if there were any easy outlets. Additionally, help came on the catch at times, which kept Young guessing as to when he'd be doubled. Against the Syracuse Orange, he was consistently trapped in the short corner on every catch. That's generally a sweet spot against the 2-3 zone, but without action in the mid-to-high post area, the anchor of the defense was able to trap with the wing defender on the back line.
Basically, teams are forcing Young to make cross-court passes against set defenses. Trapping on the catch tests his ability to put on the ball on the floor to an even greater degree, and allows both defenders to swarm as opposed to his immediate defender having to defend while Young is in a scoring position. It's a good sign for the Pittsburgh Panthers that he's still been very productive, which speaks to Young's versatility and the fact that Artis and Robinson are playing at a very high level.
In the end, I fully expect Pitt and Young to make some adjustments to get back to running action off all the attention he garners. I also believe a team is going to identify his struggles driving to the rim if he has to put the ball on the floor more than once. Against the Catamounts and Syracuse, a defender easily go their hands on the ball as Young drove the lane. While I am a firm believer in his outside game, allowing him to catch the ball at the top of the circle and elbow-extended areas may be a better play for teams that can't keep him away from the basket.