Amidst the disappointment of the 23-point loss to the Syracuse Orange (16-13, 9-9) on senior night last Wednesday, freshman forward Justin Champagnie was asked in the post game press conference if he learns anything from watching the other teams best player. On that night junior forward Elijah Hughes dropped 25 points and nine rebounds on the Pittsburgh Panthers (15-15, 6-13) and at one point in the second half had nearly outscored Pitt by himself.
Champagnie expressed that he does analyze his opponents best player and tries to add something to his game. With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the recent players that have had a lot success against the Panthers and see what exactly Champagnie could add. But first let’s quickly chat about some of the various aspects of his game right now.
Champagnie is a subtly above average passer. He’s very unselfish and works seamlessly in Pitt’s offense scheme - sets screens, moves the ball, finds space, generally assertive. Over the last month or so he’s developed a nice chemistry with sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney. Both players function somewhat similarly on the offensive end, so I think they have a feel for where each other is at on the floor and how they’ll move within the offense, and perhaps more importantly, how the defense will react.
I mentioned that Champagnie is generally assertive. That’s especially true on his three-point attempts. Despite shooting just 25.7% on his shots from beyond the arc for the season, he rarely hesitates to shoot so teams have to respect him. If you throw out the 1-9 performance at Virginia Tech, he would have shot 31% (9-29) from long distance last month; he shot 26.3% in the month of February, so it was a very mild uptick from his season average regardless.
However, as someone who hasn’t quite found his touch from deep yet, Champagnie can’t afford to be hesitant (clip 1). Rhythm, consistency and assertiveness are vital for a team that doesn't always take open shots.
So this is Champagnie’s bread and butter right now. It starts with his incredibly soft hands, especially on the move. He just has a knack for finding and securing the basketball, which of course applies to his rebounding abilities - leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game, 2.4 more than the next highest Panther, Toney at 5.0 rebounds per game.
He is also a very good finisher around the basket. His 62.2% conversion rate at the rim is second only to junior forward Terrell Brown on the team. But I’d venture he leads the team in finishing through contact. Most of the time he embraces it.
I’d love to spend more time on Champagnie’s current game, especially his rebounding, as a sentence or two for each video truthfully isn’t enough. But let’s move on to what he can add, specifically from individual players Pitt has faced recently.
First up, we have junior forward Aamir Simms of the Clemson Tigers. Simms was a big reason why Clemson blew out the Panthers by 20 points last month. His stat line of 12 points, five assists and four rebounds doesn’t scream dominance, but for those that watched the game, Simms was the catalyst behind what the Tigers did that night.
His ability to facilitate as a point forward would be a very nice addition to Champagnie’s game, although I am not sure Pitt will run a majority of their offense through him in the foreseeable future. What Champagnie can add in the immediate future is Simm’s screen setting ability, particularly his ability to read and slip screens.
Clemson didn’t always generate points out of them, and Simms picked up an offensive foul in the first clip. Still, he was able to sense if the defense was going to hedge (a good bet against the Panthers) and slipped the screen, making himself open for a pass.
As I noted above Champagnie has very good hands on the move, is an unselfish player, and knows how to pass the ball. Catching on the move after slipping a screen would add another dimension to Pitt’s offense as they rarely pass to the screen setter in ball screen situations. It would also allow Champagnie to attack from the middle of the floor, adding another area from which he and the team can be effective.
You might not have expected junior forward P.J. Horne to make this list. After all, freshman guard Landers Nolley II is the Hokies best player. But this is about Champagnie taking something away from the game they played, and Horne had his best game of the season against the Panthers. Nolley II went 3-15 and hadn’t shot the ball that poorly since the middle of December (he’s not been very good since either).
The screen and flare in clip 1 would be a great add to Champagnie’s game. Not that Pitt wants a 25.7% three-point shooter to be jacking a ton of these, but with sophomore guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens usually drawing both defenders in ball screen situations, Champagnie might find himself wide open on flares more often than not.
In my opinion, the real takeaway here is Horne’s ability to float along the baseline and knock down shots from the short corner and beyond the arc. This is where Champagnie has made a living in his short career as a Panther, so this is a natural extension of his ability to attack the basket and finish around the rim.
Lastly, we have junior forward Elijah Hughes, the ACC’s leading scorer in conference games. Hughes is really the total package as a scorer at the collegiate level, and that was on full display last week. It’s hard to imagine many players reaching this point, but Champagnie certainly has the potential.
The add here is Hughes’ ability to generate offense all on his own, especially the ability to take his man off the dribble and get all the way to the rim. This isn’t something we’ve seen from Champagnie and it’s likely better for Pitt that he doesn’t force it if it’s not a developed skill. Right now his activity, energy, and natural feel afford him plenty of scoring opportunities. But the Panthers would greatly benefit from another player being able to take his man off the dribble and get his own shot besides Johnson.
A quick note: I didn’t add freshman forward Patrick Williams from the Florida State Seminoles to this list because he more or less played a very similar offensive game (a better shooter though) to Champagnie in their recent meeting.
But if Champagnie has truly been watching the opposing teams best player, these are just some of things I am sure he’s looking to add to his game. He has all of the athletic tools required to reach what appears to be a very high ceiling. Only time will tell how Champagnie’s game will evolve.