Jaye Crockett, Lamar Patterson

Lamar Patterson’s improvement the biggest reason Pitt’s a legitimate ACC contender

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BROOKLYN — On Monday, after watching Pitt put a 23 point beatdown on Texas Tech, I wrote that the Panthers looked like they will be the team that takes advantage of some of the struggles the powers in the ACC have had this season.

On Tuesday, Jamie Dixon’s  club made me look smart. In their first real test of the season, the Panthers methodically took control against Stanford in the first half, leading 43-28 heading into halftime, before closing out an 88-67 win. Every time the Cardinal looked like they were on the verge of a run to get back into the game, Pitt had an answer, and more often than not, it was Lamar Patterson that provided that answer.

Patterson is a guy that you’ve probably heard of before. A fifth-year senior, Patterson is one of those guys that feels like he has been in college forever. But he’s always been a role player, a piece in the Panther machine. He’s been a glue guy, a skilled-but-inconsistent wing that has tantalized with his versatility just as much as he’s underwhelmed with his play at times.

But he’s the key to the Panthers this year.

This Pitt team lacks star power. Jamie Dixon has never been a guy that goes after players based on where they rank on top 100 lists, opting to instead pursue guys that are willing to wait for their time to shine while spending two or three, and sometimes four, years to get their chance. And while that’s worked for him, it creates a scenario where it’s tough to peg exactly where the production is going to come from.

Now we know. In two games in Brooklyn this week, Patterson averaged 23.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.0 boards and 3.5 blocks. On the season, he’s now averaging 17.0 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 boards and 1.5 steals while shooting 46.7% from three and 50.0% from the floor.

“He’s a big time player,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said of Patterson. “I always look at big time players and what they do on big stages. Tonight, playing for a championship, he showed who he is. He wasn’t rattled, he played with poise all game. It just tells you who he is. He’s a winner.”

That’s who Patterson is. He’s not Andrew Wiggins and he’s not Jabari Parker. He’s got a well-rounded skill-set, but he’s not a guy that is going to be shooting up NBA draft boards because of his overwhelming physical tools or an supernatural ability to put the ball in the basket. He’s smart, he’s fundamentally sound, he knows the game and he knows his game.

Most importantly, he knows what his role is on this team. He’s waited his turn, and now it’s his time to lead.

According to Dixon, one of the biggest reasons that Patterson is playing so well is that he put in the work this summer to get himself into better shape.

“He always ahd skills, he could pass and shoot, but he’s a better athlete. He’s in better shape right now,” Dixon said. “That comes from physical maturity and also mental maturity. He’s taken that challenge. We set a goal for him, and he reached it. It’s been a battle, but he got to it. That’s why he’s quicker, stronger, jumps better.”

“Now we call him an athlete, it’s been our running joke.”

Pitt wasn’t thought of as a contender for the ACC title in the preseason, and while they’ve been arguably the most impressive team in the conference through the season’s first three weeks, the Panthers are still playing with a chip on their shoulder. They still consider themselves the underdog, and they won’t be quick to forget all the people that had them in the bottom half of the league prior to the start of the season.

“A lot of people have written us off. We see those things,” Patterson said. “I’d be ignorant if I said we didn’t [pay attention to preseason rankings]. It’s obvious. It’s out there. Coach talks about it in the locker room. It’s extra motivation.”

“We just want to go out there and show people what we can do.”

It’s only six games into the season, but those people have taken notice of Pitt.

And of Lamar Patterson.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky