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.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.