It would be easy to bury an article about how the Pittsburgh Panthers are playing through two games under the notion that there isn’t a large enough sample size to make any meaningful inferences. There’s some credence to that depending on what’s being discussed. After all, the team is just two official games into the Stallings era, which has included a new style of play on both ends of the floor. Still, there are more than a few things worth discussing as Pitt prepares for the SMU Mustangs tomorrow night.
The rotation is probably the easiest place to start. For those that followed the team in the offseason, especially once the school year began; it’s not been a secret that senior forward Jamel Artis was going to run the show. To me, it’s more compelling that sophomore guard Cameron Johnson has started the last two games. With Artis, Johnson, and senior guard Chris Jones all in the starting lineup, it puts the teams best three-point shooters on the floor. While Johnson needs to continue to makes strides on the defensive end, he’ll most likely lead the team in blocking fouls committed, his size and slight edge in experience over the guards in the rotation make this a more than reasonable choice.
I am not going to dive too far into the speculation around why senior forward Michael Young came off the bench on Monday. Committing seven turnovers against the Eastern Michigan Eagles probably didn’t help, and my guess is that the sentiment around how those turnovers happened could be the driving force. At best, it sends a message to your best player and team that no one is above reproach and everyone will be held accountable. At worst, it comes across as a strong-arm tactic that alienates some of the incumbents. My guess is the former.
What’s going on in the mind of sophomore guard Damon Wilson? Backing up James Robinson at the point last season made perfect sense. This season, the Panthers are allowing Artis to steer the ship and there’s a ton of hype around newcomer Justice Kithcart. If Wilson doesn’t transition well to playing off the ball, it may be tough for him to carve out playing time at Pitt.
The Panthers haven’t been what they once were defensively for a few seasons now, but this team could set the bar even lower. In theory, having no player shorter than 6’5" on the perimeter seems enticing. Also, Young and fellow senior forward Sheldon Jeter are athletic enough to switch on ball screens and recover against penetration. Still, when you don’t have any player who can consistently patrol the paint, rely heavily on team rebounding, and have a roster that only goes seven deep in terms of experience, it’s going to be a challenge.
At the end of the day, Pitt is undefeated with a barometer test today against SMU. There’s plenty of time for Stallings and the team to find their groove and a sweet spot, so long as that doesn’t come in the form of non-conference losses.