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Current State: Part 2 - Wings

NCAA Basketball: Monmouth-NJ at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so I wish that I would have waited a little bit longer on freshman forward Karim Coulibaly because he put on a show in the final 11-12 minutes last Thursday, but such is life. Part 1 covered junior forward Terrell Brown and the aforementioned Coulibaly. The former is still trending down, the latter is on the rise. Part 2 features a pair of wing players, although you could also classify them as front court players to some degree. One is still struggling to find their footing, while the other is definitely on the rise.

In order for sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney to be a more meaningful contributor this season, he needed to be able to shoot to ball. He still can’t. Clip 2 probably sums up who Toney is right now: A non-shooter and below the rim player, but a good on-ball defender that can stride laterally with most players for 2-3 dribbles and knows how to use his length to defend on the perimeter.

There’s still a glimmer of hope that he can one day be a slasher. Toney has decent enough handle to get to the rim, but is finishing at just 35.3% when he gets there, and has to go off both feet to even have a chance.

Clip 4 reaffirms the above. The Pittsburgh Panthers have since cleaned up their miscommunication on screens, but Toney is one of the few perimeter defenders that actually fights over screens (Clip 1). Again, he doesn’t look like a guy that’s going to get buckets shooting off the bounce any time soon (Clips 2 & 3).

If the Pitt roster lined up and you had to pick a player to win an inter-squad dunk contest, you might pick Toney if you never saw the team play. He just doesn’t elevate in games like he does in the layup line. Again, needing to go off both feet can be limiting when cutting to the basket; you don’t always have time to take a full gather.

That brings us to our bridge here with freshman forward Justin Champagnie on the rise with Toney still trying to find himself. This clip, in many ways, sums that up.

Aside from the two, three-pointers by Champagnie against the Florida State Seminoles, it was clear that his legs just weren’t there. A knee injury over the summer will do that to you. He didn’t have much explosiveness and after the game head coach Jeff Capel said he still isn’t the instinctive athlete that he was.

There wasn’t much to his first step (still isn’t), although he was much more comfortable cutting and making sudden movements against the Robert Morris Colonials.

His vertical bounce came to life against the West Virginia Mountaineers. It was also apparent that Champagnie has really good hands, especially on the move and in traffic. The fact he was entering his fourth collegiate game certainly helped. Confidence and experience matters. His maturation has as much to do with both those things as it does with recovering from injury.

Champagnie dominated against the Monmouth Hawks, recorded his first career double-double and extended his double-digit scoring streak to three games (now four). I tweeted this after re-watching the game, but what really jumped out to me was how many times he passed then found open space around the basket to finish. The Panthers need more players that are willing to move the ball, especially around the free throw line and post areas. Champagnie provides that and is finishing 60.7% of his shots at the rim.

Did you need some more evidence about his finishing ability? How about how good of hands he has and understanding of where he is in relation to the basket? What about the return of his bounce?

Champagnie also plays with a little bit of nasty and will fight for position as he battles on the boards (Clip 4).

Thus far, Champagnie has dominated from the short corner area. If he continues to knock down a jumper from that area, he’ll be even more of a handful for opposing teams. His range does extend to the three-point line, and I’d imagine he’ll be connecting with some consistency after a full summer of putting in the time.

Pitt honestly needs both players to play very well if they hope to improve upon the 14 wins from last season. Toney must show that he can continue to defend and crash the glass on both ends against ACC competition. Champagnie has to avoid hitting the freshman wall. The plus side is that his ability to put the ball on the floor and pass will add value even as the size of the competition down low increases. If he finds consistency with his jumper before January, he’ll be even harder to defend.

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