Pitt returned only two scholarship players from last year’s men’s basketball team in Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan. In a gaggle of new players, it wasn’t really clear who would step up to lead the team. But Luther is making it clear that, for all intents and purposes, he’s the guy.
Luther isn’t a star by any means but he is almost certainly the most important player Pitt has and the closest thing to a ‘go to’ player on the roster. The Pitt forward/center leads the team in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) while shooting just below 50% on the season. Luther’s shooting percentage has gone down and is currently the lowest of his career. But that’s entirely understandable in the context that he’s being asked to much more than he ever has. Essentially, Luther has gone from a three-year bench player to the Most Valuable Player, which obviously isn’t an easy transition.
While the scoring is crucial to what Pitt does this year, the rebounding he provides is even more important. The Panthers are mostly playing a small lineup that always contains at least three guards and sometimes, as in the case of the Duquesne game, a fourth as Shamiel Stevenson started. Luther’s 9.1 rebounds per game are easily the most on the team with the next highest guy, Stevenson, averaging about half that (4.8). Take Luther out of the equation and rebounding looks like even more difficult.
Luther also isn’t a great defender but his 6’9” frame is more than necessary now to cover opposing bigs. Pitt has had to rely on sophomore transfer Kene Chukwuka already much more than they probably should be and that would be even more the case if Luther wasn’t around. Chukwuka has had some bright moments but is still incredibly raw, particularly on defense where he’s sometimes bullied around. Just the thought of imagining asking him to do even more gives me a headache.
I wasn’t sure where the Luther as a team leader was going to carry us. But while I’m not sure if his production in terms of efficiency will last once the opponents get more difficult, the role on him at least seems to work with this team. For that much, Pitt fans should be grateful that he stuck around here. So far, he’s really having a nice season and keeping things from entirely coming off the tracks.
Pitt will likely still pile up the ACC losses so this isn’t about selling false enthusiasm. But if you take him out of the equation, it’s very easy to imagine the team being far worse.