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ACC Competition Adjustment

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Not that anyone expected the Pittsburgh Panthers (10-4, 0-1) to beat the North Carolina Tarheels on Saturday, but at least a few expected them to stay within striking distance for more than just 10 minutes. It was encouraging to see that the freshman duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens proved quickly that they belong in the ACC. Even they need to make some adjustments (who wouldn’t after 1 game?) so what does that mean for the rest of the team?

I wanted to get this out on Sunday, but here’s my list of adjustments:

1.) Johnson and McGowens need to find a way to get going at the same time.

While Johnson got off to a hot start against North Carolina, McGowens didn’t get on the board until the 5:19 mark with two free throws. Against the Colgate Raiders both players helped Pitt pace with Colgate after they sprinted out of the gates.

Teams will be keying on Johnson in the early going, this should open up opportunities for McGowens to work off the ball; he’s been pretty good on three-pointers from the wing of late. The alternative is to let McGowens initiate the offense and have Johnson work off ball, but that assumes Johnson can get going whenever he wants - a reasonable assumption at this point.

2.) Freshman guard Au’Diese Toney must find a way to continue his high-energy approach against players that will likely be bigger and equally athletic.

It’s unlikely he’ll be this effective against conference opponents but this is the kind of energy the team needs from him. The Panthers just didn’t have a lot of energy during their scoring slump last Saturday, and most of that has nothing to do with Toney. Still, the team needs his contributions on both ends of the floor, and they seldom call plays for him.

3.) If sophomore forward Terrell Brown is going to get a majority of the minutes in the front court, he’ll need to improve his screen setting abilities and his off-ball movement in general. Granted, Johnson has much better chemistry with junior forward Kene Chukwuka, but Brown still lacks confidence when setting screens and as he’s rolling. On the plus side, he usually exits his screens well.

Brown is a much better defensive presence than Chukwuka. Neither is a great rebounder, but Brown adds value as a player who can alter and block shots, so it makes some sense for him to log a majority of the minutes.

4.) With Pitt only playing 8 players, it’s important for sophomore guard Kham Davis to contribute off the bench, especially if Chukwuka ends up in a reserve role.

Personally, I think the term 3-D gets thrown out too much for any player that is a little bit athletic and can also hit the occasional three-pointer, but that’s basically how I’d describe Davis at this point. He isn’t going to have a lot of ball handling duties, and teams will leave him to help on Johnson, McGowens, or senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame. Aside, from junior guard Malik Ellison, I don’t think any player will get as many open looks from beyond the arc as Davis.

Here’s a few more quick ones:

  • The Panthers need to keep the pressure on defensively against teams with more size and length.
  • Don’t allow themselves to become stagnant on the offensive end.
  • Don’t allow one bad play to effect their next play.
  • Senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame can’t allow himself to become just a three-point shooter.
  • Ellison must flash to open space when someone else drives. He’s one of the few weak side cutters the team has; he might be the only one.

This isn’t an overreaction to a loss against a team they likely weren’t going to beat. Many of these adjustments would still apply even if Pitt won. Also, the Panthers are a very young team and their best three players have just one ACC game under their belts now. Things will get better, this is a marathon not a sprint.

I fully expect them to address most of the points I outlined above against the Louisville Cardinals (10-4, 1-0) tonight.

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