So far, so good.
The Pitt men’s basketball team continued its strong start with an 84-75 win over Troy on Monday night. That’s the first such start for the team since the 2015-16 season when they went 4-0 before losing to Purdue.
Troy, as expected, provided Pitt with a bit of a challenge. The game was back and forth in the first half until the Panthers ultimately pulled away. Don’t sleep on this win, folks. While Troy isn’t ranked or the level of competition Pitt will see in the ACC, they are a better team than the Panthers have played so far this year and this is a very nice win for a young program.
For the second straight game, it was Jared Wilson-Frame leading the way for Pitt. He again came off the bench and still led the team in scoring with 24 points. It’s his second straight 20-point game and, more importantly, he is shooting 60% on the year. That obviously won’t last but indications point to Wilson-Frame being more efficient as a scorer than he was last year. and he was under 38% from the floor. His numbers will dip but if he is able to shoot 45% from the field, that would be incredible and you can even live with a little lower than that.
Part of the reason he’s finding more success could be attributed to just hot shooting. Wilson-Frame has had good shooting nights before, obviously, and I’m not sure Pitt wins this one tonight without him. But it also could be in part because Pitt has more weapons this season.
Freshmen guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens had nice nights with 27 points and 14 assists. Johnson, in particular, was all over the place with team-highs in assists (9) and rebounds (7). He had ten assists against VMI and already impressing out there. The Panthers also got a surprisingly strong night from center Terrell Brown who had a dozen points and five rebounds in only 13 minutes of action. Brown was much more aggressive out there and that’s something Pitt will ultimately need. Kene Chukwuka also continues to contribute and he had 13 points and six boards in 22 minutes of action. Wilson-Frame might have to lead the way but he’s not alone and if you throw Malik Ellison and Audiese Toney in the mix (both had a quiet night), you’ve got seven or eight guys capable of scoring. Not dominating, mind you. But guys that are able to go out and give you a dozen points if you need it.
Regarding Wilson-Frame, Pitt is really fortunate to have him. I know we’ve gotten on him quite a bit for some really bad shooting performances and I’ve been tough on him myself. But he’s a nice player to have on a team like this. Whenever you’re starting three freshmen, having a guy like that who is capable of not only playing big minutes but taking on the scoring load is very helpful. I don’t want him to necessarily hurt the development of others and am all for getting guys as many minutes as possible so that they’re more equipped next year when Pitt is hopefully more competitive. But his presence is greatly appreciated on a young team that will face a very difficult schedule.
One thing I like that Pitt has tried a little bit defensively is a full court press. Typically when we mention the press, it’s usually about the Panthers trying to work out of one on offense. But Pitt is actually employing that strategy this year defensively a little bit and I’m all for that. It just seems to work with this team, which is generally more athletic than they’ve been recently. I’m not sure it’s going to ever be used the way Louisville does or anything but it’s a nice wrinkle to try to throw opponents off their rhythm every once in a while. I don’t necessarily chide Jamie Dixon or Kevin Stallings for not giving that much of a shot (at least I don’t recall them doing so). But this team has some athletic guys that might be able to execute it and it’s something to keep an eye on.
A small, final note here is that Shamiel Stevenson didn’t play tonight. I haven’t heard anything about an injury and this could be the dreaded DNPCD.
Stevenson seems out of favor with this coaching staff and hasn’t played much through three games. That, of course, is kind of shocking given that he is only one of a few guys to come back from last year and he actually was a key contributor last season. No one can question head coach Jeff Capel on this, of course. Pitt is winning out there and I always leave that sort of stuff to the coaches. But it is interesting, if nothing else, to see Stevenson’s role shrinking on a team that includes so many young players. It almost makes you think about his future here. I always hate speculating about that sort of stuff, especially publicly. But this is a pretty visible case of a guy, thus far, seemingly on the outside looking in. That’s kind of a shame because I do think he brings value to the table. I hope he keeps working hard and fights his way back into the rotation. He’s a tough player and certainly could have a future here, even if his style of play is more suited for a slower, bruising style of offense.
Like I said earlier, Troy is not as tough of a team that Pitt will face later this year, but this was a really impressive win for these guys. It was a step up in competition and the team really showed something tonight.
Next up is Central Arkansas on Thursday.