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The Weight of Expectations

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

Fear not! For those of you that are hoping for the next Current State article, this is very much a continuation of the series. As I outlined in Part 1, sophomore guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens warranted their own articles. Furthermore, given where both players and the Pittsburgh Panthers (6-2, 1-0) are in the season, it was fitting to give their video breakdowns a different title.

For Johnson, the title seems fitting. It took all of two games (for some less) before fans on social media were disappointed in Johnson’s play, confused as to how he could be projected to be drafted into the NBA.

Here’s a quick reminder why: Powered by an explosive first step and an accompanying controlled handle (underrated) Johnson can get down hill in a blink of an eye with his second and third dribble often pushing him an entire stride past his defender. Additionally, Johnson is an instinctive player in ball screens and can make a defense look silly if they show their hand too early and/or are undisciplined in their approach (Clip 2).

Because he must carry a decent share of the scoring load, it’s sometimes forgotten that he has very good vision - a product of being able to dribble with his head up - and above average passing ability, especially off the bounce.

Johnson is a high-level athlete for his position at the collegiate level, and his ball handling ability is of the same caliber. But that goes both ways for him.

One of Johnson’s biggest weaknesses is that he sometimes likes to dribble too much. In Clip 1, he receives the ball with 26 seconds left on the clock and proceeds to dribble for the next 13 seconds. This is basically every Houston Rockets possession (minus having more than 24 seconds to shoot). The four-man-watching-one-man-dribbling offense isn’t particularly effective in college. There’s plenty of blame to go around here, but Johnson is the lead guard so getting his team into an offensive rhythm falls mostly on him.

When Johnson is successful in turning stagnant possessions into points, that usually comes at a cost later in the game. Forget Clip 3 for a second. If you otherwise take a look at the time stamps, what’s happening over the course of the game is how a lot of Pitt games play out - Johnson trying to do everything down the stretch with his teammates somewhat used to standing around. Again, there’s a shared amount of blame.

To his credit, there are also times when he tries getting everyone else involved and they simply don’t make shots. The Panthers don’t have many dynamic offensive players outside of Johnson, which contributes to him pressing.

He’s been pressing more at the start of games this season than last, going through stretches where he’s really careless with the ball. That doesn’t usually allow any of his teammates to get into any kind of offensive rhythm, which leads to missed shots from his passes, which leads to even more pressing by Johnson, which leads to fear, fears leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Sorry, but I have to believe that at least one person reading this also is looking forward to the Rise of Skywalker this month. You get my point though.

These clips from the game against the Monmouth Hawks sums up early season Johnson. He over dribbles possessions, presses after some missed shots or pass attempts, but his natural abilities allow him to take over at times, and for sustained stretches against lesser opposition.

I think what fans are disappointed about is that’s what Johnson did last year, as a freshman; he actually didn’t even press as much to start games last season.

Fair or unfair, that’s just the reality. After the Monmouth game Johnson admitted he was looking at social media too much, he’s since deactivated Twitter, and head coach Jeff Capel addressed that maybe the prospect of going pro weighed on him.

Again, you can’t teach Johnson’s athleticism, and more importantly his ability to apply it. Nor will hours of dribbling necessarily bless you with the handle that he possesses. If he’s able to hone that in conjunction with his fearless, attack mentality then he won’t even have to worry about expectations set by himself or others because he’ll have exceeded them both.

*Unfortunately, WatchESPN doesn’t have the Kansas St. or Northwestern games.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz