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Trey McGowens Gaining Confidence in Handle

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

The Pittsburgh Panthers (9-3) have three extremely talented freshmen. While point guard Xavier Johnson may grab a bulk of the spotlight, there is plenty of praise to go around for guard Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney.

McGowens has proven to be an explosive finisher off one leg, and has steadily improved his three-point stroke (a consistent, compact form) as the season has progressed, especially from the wing. Defensively, he applies a ton of on-ball pressure and has proven he can recover to play passing lanes when he’s off the ball. I’ll be talking about Toney in the very near future.

Aside from consistently converting from beyond the arc, all of McGowens aforementioned skills have been on display from day one. Again just a freshman, if there was an aspect of his game that needed a little bit of polish it was his handle, as well as decisiveness when driving, both in traffic.

The clip above is an example of a pretty typical McGowens drive early in the season. He had a tendency to take a hesitation dribble coming off screens (not necessarily a bad thing), which tended to allow the defense to recover and get set more than it allowed him time to make up his mind. Now the off-ball movement of his teammates and spacing wasn’t ideal, but he basically drove right into the area where the defender was going to put a hand in. Had he gone a little sooner, he might have been able to get off a decent floater (more on this later).

If you’ve seen the highlight dunks that McGowens has thrown down this year, then you know he can dribble, gather, and finish through some contact. He’s not been as successful in doing that while navigating multiple defenders in traffic, no one is.

Here’s another clip one game later against stiffer competition in the West Virginia Mountaineers. Clearly, McGowens can maintain his dribble while absorbing contact. The upper part of his arm (shoulder to elbow) gets a little too involved when he starts to lose control, which doesn’t allow him to make a move to shake his defender.

Generally speaking, McGowens has been a little shaky maintaining control of his initial dribble if he’s trying to accelerate quickly and when trying to make a move on his defender. On the flip side, he’s strong with the ball while going stride for stride with one defender.

Against the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks, McGowens initiated more of the offense than he had previously. He did get fouled at the end of this sequence, but the hesitation dribble closed the window on an immediate attack against junior forward AJ Cheeseman. That also closed the door on him getting deeper into the lane for a potential kick out to senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame.

Quick side note: Capel did a really good job of getting Pitt back on track during the month of December with the time they had between games. The game against West Virginia showed how reliant the team had become on Johnson, and he and the team made a concerted effort to get back to utilizing multiple ball handlers.

What a difference one game makes, right? This is arguably the best drive by any Panther this season. McGowens sees the hedge coming from junior forward Kene Chukwuka’s defender, makes a decisive move back to his left hand, sees the lane open and attacks the basket. I especially like his two-handed gather over the arms of Wilson-Frame’s defender who tried to help (has lost the ball at the top of his gather quite a few times this year). By the time McGowens passes the ball, every New Orleans player is in the paint. A really nice play.

On their next offensive possession against the Privateers, McGowens demonstrates his improved handle and decisiveness in traffic. He likes to drive the ball left, especially in on-ball screen situations. I really like how he chose to not use the screen, catching the defense off guard. But he was able to work the ball back to his left (turned it over against Saint Louis on nearly the same behind-the-back dribble) before showing some patience in the lane, and was able to finish with a nice floater.

ACC play is coming, and I doubt McGowens will have his way off-the-bounce quite like this come January. Still, as a result of improved confidence and decisiveness, he has a little bit better understanding of how to navigate the lane while maintaining his dribble. If he’s able to keep taking steps forward in his aspect of his game, it will go a long way in ensuring Pitt has a two-headed attack from the perimeter.

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