Monday, October 20, 2014

Pitt Basketball Preseason Outlook and Prediction

GUARDS

Cameron Wright- The 6'5" fifth year senior had his best season last year with 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 1.8 spg.  Not bad numbers on the surface but when you look further, you can see that Wright's shooting, especially at shooting guard, leaves a lot to be desired.  Wright shot 45.6% from the field, which is good for a guard, but that was mostly because most of his baskets came in close or in transition. From three point range, Wright shot an anemic 23.3%, which is awful for a starting shooting guard. His 67.0% from the FT line was also below average.

Wright is at his best in transition and when he's not called on to be a big offensive threat. That's not ideal for a starting shooting guard, and there's no denying that in the half court offense Wright has been a mediocre offensive threat at best. If he can suddenly find a more consistent jump shot he would end his career as a good all around player. If not, he will continue to be a solid player and nothing more.

A broken foot in the preseason will probably prevent Wright from playing in the first six or eight games, including the important Maui tournament, but if he has no setbacks he will likely be back in the starting position by mid-December.


James Robinson- The 6'3" junior came into Pitt with high expectations, and many are losing hope that he'll ever reach those lofty expectations. Those people may want to be a little more patient. As a sophomore, Robinson improved in every category, but for the most part fans still were looking for better offense. That could come this year. Jamie Dixon wants Robinson to look for his offense more, and this could finally be the year that he becomes more than just solid.

As a sophomore, he averaged 7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, and 1.5 spg. His free throw shooting was a solid 79.4% and a barely respectable 34.3% from three, but he shot just 40.1% from the floor. The numbers are (here's that description again) solid, and that's petty much how Robinson can be described in his Pitt career this far. He doesn't shoot often and when he does it's not good enough to be a plus. His defense is solid in most cases, but not good enough to compensate for his lack of offense. His assists stats are good, but for somebody who concentrates mostly on quarterbacking the team, they should be significantly better. His turnover ratio is one of the best in the country, but it's mostly because he rarely attacks. I think you get the point. Robinson has some good points, just no great points.

On the bright side, however, he's now a junior and will start for the third season. He's lost weight to get quicker and as I stated before there's more expected from him this season. If he's ever going to make a significant jump into an elite player, the time is now.


Josh Newkirk- This is where things get interesting. The 6'1" sophomore has more natural skills than both Robinson and Wright, and now that he's no longer a freshman he has a chance to take major minutes away from the veteran duo. With Wright injured, Newkirk should get the start at shooting guard, and if he lives up to his potential, Wright will have trouble getting minutes back.

As a freshman, Wright averaged just 4.6 ppg, but in the last seven games Wright got more minutes and averaged 8.0 ppg over that span. His only major weakness is his free throw shooting where he shot 44.7%. That's a number that obviously has to change if he wants to be on the floor at the end of the game. The rest of his game shows great promise, however. Newkirk shot a great 46.3% from the field and 43.4% from three. If he can continue his excellent shooting to pair with his blazing speed, it will be hard to keep him off the floor, especially if Robinson and Wright continues to struggle offensively.


Chris Jones- The redshirt sophomore has an impressive, athletic build at 6'6", and a sweet stroke. Now that he's in his third season with the program it's time to see if he is capable of capitalizing on those traits and turning himself into a bigger contributor. Last season he got just 7.4 minutes a game and if he doesn't improve significantly he's still going to be behind Robinson, Wright, and Newkirk. He did shoot 80% from the line last season so he has that going for him.

Jones will get his shot to impress in the first half dozen games or so. With Wright out, Jones will be the third guard, and he will have to produce against some good teams. If he excels he will battle for more minutes, but more than likely he will go from the third guard to the tenth player on the team once Wright comes back.


FORWARDS



Durand Johnson- This 6'6" redshirt junior is my pick for the most important player on this team. A knee injury cost him the second half of last season but in 16 games he showed his skills by averaging 8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 1.4 apg. He also shot a fantastic 85.3% from the line. His reputation is that of an excellent three point specialist, but his 33.8% from beyond the arc was not at an elite level. But there were games when Johnson lit it up from deep. Against Savannah State (3-6), Lehigh (5-8), and Maryland (3-4), he showed that he's capable of being a dominating force in that regard.

Johnson is more than a three point specialist, however. He can drive and dunk, pass, and rebound a little. If he spent more time driving and using his excellent free throw shooting he has the potential to average well into double figures. That will also give him more space when he unleashes from three point range. But all of that is depends on his rehabbed knee. If he's healthy and lives up to his potential he should start at small forward and could reach 13-14 ppg this season.


Michael Young- The starting power forward started as a true freshman last year, too, but there's no doubt that he mostly struggled in his first year. He averaged just 6.0 ppg and 4.1 rpg, and shot 41.3% from the field, thanks mostly to not being aggressive or confident in the paint. But I expect a better season from him this year.

Young has a very impressive skill set on a 6'9" 235 pound frame. He has excellent range for a big power forward and shot 35.7% from the three point range. His very good range for the position is why he's better off at the four than the five. An occasional three pointer from Young will clear the paint for his teammates.

But make no mistake about it, Young needs to spend most of his team near the basket. His strong body is a major asset if he uses it as a weapon instead of being unaggressive. That should come this season with more experience and confidence. With that confidence he could easily be a 12 ppg and 8 rpg player this season.

Early word is that Young has a completely different attitude brought about by a year of going through the ACC wars, and he's approaching the season with renewed confidence. If he can stay primarily at the four and keeps his confidence, he should make a big jump in production.


Jamal Artis- Another true freshman last year and even though he didn't start he actually had more good moments than Young. On the season he averaged 4.9 ppg and 2.9 rpg in just 15 minutes a game,  and he also shot a very good 46% from the field. He also added 70.8% from the line. He shot just 29.6% from three but with more minutes that number should rise.

The bulky 6'7" sophomore has a high ceiling because he has the potential to be good at every facet of the game. His size helps him in the paint, but he also has good range and is an exceptional passer.

Artis played a lot as a backup to Young at the four last season, but it's more likely that he'll be more at the three this season. Ideally he will back up Johnson, but if Johnson's knee is not healthy he could find himself starting for awhile, and at the very least he should get more minutes.


Sheldon Jeter- The 6'8" Vanderbilt transfer has come back home to play for the Panthers, and his vast array of skills will help the team a lot. The redshirt sophomore showed a lot of promise as a true freshman in the SEC with 5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and an impressive 47.1% from the field and 39.1% from three. He also had six double digit scoring games including five in SEC play.

After transferring he worked on his game so that he can be more versatile and play some three, something Dixon prefers in his players. His game is still mostly as a stretch four where he can rebound like a four, but shoot like a three.

He's long and an explosive athlete but putting the ball on the floor is still something he needs to work on. Even so, he can rebound, shoot, and pass. If he expands his game with defense and ball handling he will reach a higher level in his career. For now he will probably back up Young.


Cameron Johnson- The 6'7" true freshman was a bit of a surprise over the summer, and he has a lot going for him. He's not a great athlete but he is long, can shoot, he's an exceptional passer, and he even scraps for rebounds. He could be a very good contributor in his career, but barring injuries of those in front of him, he may be due for a redshirt this season. Not that he can't play some this year, but rather because he has so many more experienced players in front of him.


Ryan Luther- The local true freshman is listed at 6'9" officially which means he's probably 6'8". The good news is, he could legitimately end up 6'9" or 6'10" which changes his upside significantly.  A 6'10" forward that can shoot, rebound, and pass has a nice future. Right now, however, he is slated for a redshirt.


CENTERS


Derrick Randall- The 6'9" 240 pound senior has been a bit player thus far in his career, but this is his last chance to make a major contribution. Being a senior he may get the start at the beginning of the season, but it's doubtful that he will get a ton of minutes. One of the main reasons is because he's a fouling machine. He does play all out, which helps him defensively and in rebounding, but he's not a great athlete and subtlety is not his forte.

As a junior, Randall played just 8.6 mpg, and averaged 2.1 ppg and 2.4 rpg. He's expected to be one of at least three centers that get minutes, and Young may be a fourth. For that reason his stats again probably won't be significant. But if he plays well in 10 minutes a game and controls his fouling then he will help out in his last go around.


Joseph Uchebo- This may prove to be the biggest story of the season. The 6'10" 245 pound junior was all but written off by fans and everybody else because of a badly injured knee before he even came to Pitt, but to his credit he has battled back to the point that he may help the Panthers significantly this season.

Uchebo's limp is not as noticeable as it was last season, and even though he says he's in pain it isn't slowing him down.  Rebounding is his best skill. He is long, large, and he attacks the ball like it owns him money. He can't jump as well because of his knee, but his long arms, hustle, and width make up for that. His defense is also solid and he even has developed a nice drop step in the paint.

It wasn't long ago that people thought about who would replace him after he asked to leave the team. Now he may be a legitimately good center and will likely get the most minutes at center.


Tyrone Haughton- A junior college transfer, the 6'9" junior is thin, but he's athletic with very long arms. His offense is virtually non-existent but he's a good rebounder and a superb shot blocker. Because he wasn't with the program when they went to the Bahamas, he's a little behind the others, but he could eventually get some minutes this season due to his rebounding and defense.


Outlook: I like this team and I think they are going to be even better in the next two years. The core is very good, and young, but not too young. Players 1-5 may not a top 25 teams, but players 1-10 are. And that's the main storyline of this team. Many fans worry about who will be the main offensive options, but they shouldn't worry. The offense went through Lamar Patterson first last year, then Talib Zanna. They are gone, but others will pick up the slack. Young, Robinson, Wright or Newkirk, and Johnson are all capable of being double figure scorers this season. None may be a 15 ppg scorer but if Young gets 12 or 14 , Robinson gets 10 or 12, Wright or Newkirk gets 10 or 12, and Johnson gets 10-12 then they'll score enough. And then players like Artis, Jeter, and even Uchebo could add another 6 or 8. Does that mean again that Pitt won't have a go to scorer now with Patterson gone? Maybe. But good scoring, excellent defense, and outstanding rebounding will win Pitt a lot of games. Look for this to be the first of at least three excellent seasons in a row.

Prediction: 28-9

45 comments:

  1. Chris, very informative, thank you.

    I believe you may have been a little too harsh on Young; remember (1) he was a natural frosh (2) had a broken bone in his foot much of the season and (3) was used as a screener more than a primary choice on offense last year. Still, he was cited by JD as the best post defender.

    I expect him to be one of the stars this year.

    bill

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  2. More minutes for Newkirk and both Johnson/Luther redshirting would be two huge positives. The other four forwards ahead of Camerone and Ryan will all be back next season, so redshirting both only makes sense. Especially if the coaches are high on both kids.

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  3. How well the "center" position plays will determine how highly ranked it will be during the season as well as at the end of the season when it counts.
    And that means leaving Young at the PF position!
    If Young has to play the center position, then that is not a good sign.

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  4. Chris, 28 wins is alot. I would bet they would fall short of that total.I hope i am wrong.

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    Replies
    1. 18-0 pre-season. 10-10 in ACC.
      Or something very close to that.
      Its called scheduling powderpuff.

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    2. they are likely to run into a higher ranked team in the Maui Tourne, and they play at Indiana, a very tough place to play.

      12 and 1 pre-season and 13-7 in ACC, 2 and 1 ACC tourney, 1 and 1 NCAA

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    3. That's exactly how I figured it out.

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    4. Anony 9:51
      Very good analysis but 13-7 in ACC may be on the high side.
      Clearly 25+ wins though.

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    5. They were 12-8 in the conference last year with a bunch of freshmen.

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    6. Chris your prediction is wrong because we only play 18 games in the ACC before the ACC tournament.. We were 11-7 in the ACC regular season last year, and 13-8 when you add in the 2-1 in the ACC Tourney.

      This all makes your 28-10 prediction almost impossible unless we get to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tourney.

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    7. Actually I counted wrong and it's 28-9. 12-6 in ACC, 13-1 on OOC, 3-2 in postseason.

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  5. Make tourney as a 6 or 7... win first round and lose in 2nd game sounds about right... The tournament disappointment continues. Hope to be wrong.

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    Replies
    1. Exactly. It's the same song and dance every year. Pitt schedules non-competitive out-of-conference schedule, wins 25-plus games. Loses in rounds 1 or 2 of tournament.

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  6. We have a much harder nonconf schedule this year

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  7. Nice write-up. I mostly agree with the record prediction as well. I'm just looking to eliminate those late-season, last-minute losses... like the UVA and Syracuse games. It feels like this will be another very good team that might win 1 or 2 games in the NCAA tournament. Broadly speaking, it feels like Dixon is building towards something special either next year or the year after with some of the higher end commits (Wilson, etc) coming in to complement the upperclassmen years of Young, Newkirk, Robinson, etc.

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  8. longsufferingpittfanOctober 21, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    Really like the depth of this team, especially in the coming years if they can figure out the 5. Think Young has the potential to be the breakout player this year. Should be exciting.

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  9. If Young is in fact 6'9" - reports said he grew an inch in the off season - and we go with Jeter and Artis we'll be fine in the front court. I don't understand why people think 6'9" isn't tall enough to play the 5 in Dixon's system. The 4 and the 5 play the same way. Robinson, Newkirk, Artis, Jeter and Young is best line up. I'm not a fan of Cam Wright at all.

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    Replies
    1. I wrote that he's 6'9" because that's what he's listed as. But I think he's 6'8". He won't start at the 5 though. Dixon isn't going to have three centers and not play them.

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    2. Newkirk, Johnson, Jeter, Young, Uchebo is the best lineup in my opinion.
      Robinson to backup 1/2
      Artis to backup 3
      Randall to backup 4/5.
      That is what the rotation "should" be in my opinion.
      Jeter is not a 4 regardless of his height. He plays like a 2 but best suited at the 3.

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    3. Jeter has never been a good enough ball handler or defender to be a 3. That's why Pitt sent him to Florida. They want him to get better at that so that he can at least play the 3 in a pinch.

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    4. Jeter played the 3 at Vandy and Pitt didn't send him to Florida.
      Jeter family knew Polk coach from way back.

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    5. Your information is wrong. Not only was I told it but it was also widely reported. It's not a secret.

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    6. I saw Jeter play a couple of games at Vandy on TV a couple of years ago ... and not sure if he played the 3 or 4. I do remember him hitting a few shots from the corner, and get a handful of rebounds .. but don't recall him handling the ball that much.

      My impression back then was that he looked pretty solid for a natural freshman, and had wished Dixon had extended him a scholarship offer when he was at BFHS.

      bill

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    7. Let's be real here, the SEC outside of Florida and Kentucky is a JV level college league. Even if he did handle the ball there, it's not the same.

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  10. Chris, can you please give us some of your first hand observations from when you watched the team in Montour and from the two Blue Gold Scrimmages?

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    Replies
    1. Didn't see the scrimmages. This post that we're commenting on is in part what I saw at Montour.

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    2. Thanks --
      I've never been able to see any of the games in the summer. Can you tell me some more specifics from all of the games you watched, for example some of the things you saw from certain players or comments on the performances?
      Thanks again.

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  11. One more question Chris for you when you give your examples. Can you tell me about the way Newkirk shot the three in the games you watched in the summer?

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  12. I think I agree with assessment. This is an unranked caliber team who may have a few moments, may be a half decent team, lower tier ncaa tourney team that has potential to become better in future years. Certainly more solid than the football program right now, but for the moment only half decent, not great.

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  13. Think Nix commits this weekend?

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  14. No post after GT game... lol
    Frankly, nothing to write, except the team and coaches embarrassed the legacy of the script!

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    Replies
    1. I had to leave right after the game. By the time I could write it I assumed nobody gave a crap.

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    2. I'd still like a recap. Could be like two words, pitt fumbled. Just to reset the comments for the game would be nice.

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  15. Pitt will struggle to get 6 wins and may not get there. It's a product of poor coaching, poor recruiting and an administration that is not willing to commit to a top tier program. Simple as that.

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  16. Here's my Prediction....

    Pitt won't make it to the Final Four... the Elite Eight... or the Sweet Sixteen.

    And Jamie Dixon will continue to be the Head Coach after more than TEN YEARS on the job.

    I know this is a LONG SHOT. But this is just the way I see it.

    PittofDreams

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    Replies
    1. POD,

      And your point about Dixon is...??

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  17. Nix looks like he has a nice touch around the basket. He needs to drop a few pounds though...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf80yjmi_7g

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ-mK2BsUEU

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  18. Pitt's New 7 foot Center

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf80yjmi_7g

    PittofDreams

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    Replies
    1. Ontario Lett is an assistant coach at Pensacola JC.

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  19. I came to your blog because you were the anti Chris Peak, who didn't judge my post whether they were for or against Pitt football, they were my honest opinions and in alot of cases facts. Now, I can't get a post on the blog because you've become Chris Peak Jr. instead of being Chris Dokish. You're a journalist but you refuse to give me my freedom of speech, but I understand Chris Peak Jr, you sold yourself to Pitt

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    Replies
    1. I have no idea what you're talking about. Sometimes there's a mistake in the process. Sometimes I block posts that have an obvious agenda just to cause trouble. I have no idea which was you but I don't look at who posts what.

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    2. Ok, as of lately, unless I post anonymously, my last 5-10 post as Jerry "The Mole" have not come onto the blogs. Thanks for the clar

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  20. Chris, you've softened your stance on Pitt the past year or so.

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  21. Chris, do you plan to comment on the GA Tech game? Won't change the result, obviously, but we appreciate your insights.

    Thanks in advance!

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