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Five things we learned about Pitt basketball during non-conference season

NCAA Basketball: Towson at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s non-conference basketball season is finished as the Panthers will now start ACC play after the breaks. We’ll be talking a little more about the non-conference slate later, but here are five things that I think we’ve learned about the team so far.

1. Ryan Luther is important

I didn’t think Luther was a star heading into this season and I still don’t believe that. On a good team, he’s probably a No. 3 guy. But there’s little doubt that Luther is the most important guy on the team. A guy like Marcus Carr has much more upside, obviously, and will end up being a better player than him. But Luther is the team’s best rebounder and could also be the leading scorer on the team when it’s all said and done this year. Pitt has won the three games they’ve played since his loss but had to squeak by in two of them and the competition hasn’t been real tough, either.

2. Marcus Carr is really good

Pitt doesn’t have many definitive stars on the team but Carr should be one - and maybe as soon as next year. The true freshman is third in scoring with 11.8 points per game, leads the team in assists (4.1), and is shooting a blistering 51% from the field. He’s also shooting an an unreal 49% from three-point range and leads the team in free throw percentage, making about 91% of his attempts there.

The biggest problem for Carr is taking care of the ball as he’s averaging 3.1 turnovers per game. But for a true freshman guard playing nearly 30 minutes a game and being asked to do so much on offense, that number isn’t really unexpected.

3. Pitt’s 2017 recruiting class has some talent

In addition to Carr, Pitt’s 2017 class also includes a few other talented players. Shamiel Stevenson looks like he’ll become a star as well. He’s averaging 9.9 points per game and his 5.4 rebounds per contest are second. Stevenson has some polishing to do but has looked really good this season.

Khameron Davis is contributing more and more and is shooting even more accurate than Carr (53% from the field and 52% beyond the arc). While guard Parker Stewart has been streaky, he’s shown the ability to be a solid three-point threat off the bench at times. And developing big man Terrell Brown is starting to show some glimpses of being capable in the middle eventually. I don’t think the class is full of stars but we’re at least seeing that some of these guys can play.

4. The team is showing some improvement under Stallings’ watch

There was a lot of concern about the team heading into this season because of all of the freshmen that were going to be playing. Early on, that concern seemed to be justified. Pitt lost to Navy, who then went out and lost by 34 to Miami and by 21 to Penn. The Panthers then lost to Montana in overtime at home. After a win against UC Santa Barbara, Pitt was then blown out by Penn State, losing by 31. Since then, though, Pitt has been better.

They lost their next game to Oklahoma State, but played a close game losing by only six before winning their next four games to get over .500. They unexpectedly hung with a top 20 West Virginia team before losing late and then won their next three games. The team is still not real good but is definitely getting better and Stallings deserves credit for that.

5. Pitt may make more noise in the ACC than expected

Before you get too excited, ‘more noise’ in this case doesn’t mean the Panthers will win a ton of ACC games or threaten to do much of anything in conference. Pitt will play seven teams currently ranked in the Top 25 in their final 18 games and will see several more that are getting votes in the poll. The schedule is, as it usually is in the ACC, going to be very tough. But there were legitimate concerns that Pitt might not win any ACC games this year and the outlook looks a little better than that.

It’s possible that Pitt gets a win against Georgia Tech (5-6) or Wake Forest (7-5) - both games are at home. Boston College went out and beat Duke but also lost by 20 to a pretty weak Providence team. And as Pitt proved against West Virginia, they’re even capable of hanging with ranked teams on the right nights. It now isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Pitt gets a few ACC wins and after the start to the season, that looked like a tough ask.

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