Cameron Wright’s improvement paying dividends for Pittsburgh

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The offseason was one of major adjustments for the Pittsburgh Panthers, and not just because of their move from the Big East to the ACC. Jamie Dixon lost his leading scorer in guard Tray Woodall and two solid interior contributors in Steven Adams and Dante Taylor, and how the Panthers accounted for those departures would have a major impact on their prospects in 2013-14.

Through thirteen games the process has been relatively smooth, with the Panthers taking a 12-1 record into their ACC debut at N.C. State on Saturday. One of the key factors thus far has been the play of redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright, who has take full advantage of the increased opportunities. After playing a little over 14 minutes per contest in 2012-13 Wright’s playing 28.2 minutes per game this season, posting averages of 11.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

Wright, who’s shooting 51.2% from the field, has increased his scoring average by seven points per game and is just one of the backcourt players who have given the Panthers quality minutes this season. And his versatility is gaining more attention from those who follow the Panthers closely, and even some of the team’s opponents, as noted in a story written by Andrew Chiappazzi of the Beaver County (Penn.) Times.

Tuesday’s 58-46 win over Albany was perhaps the most emphatic proof of Wright’s emergence as a major force for Pitt this season. Wright had 14 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals in 34 minutes, setting new career highs for rebounds and assists.

“I was just reading his stat line. It’s phenomenal. No turnovers, eight assists,” Albany forward Sam Rowley said. “We really struggle against that, when guys are that athletic and can do that many different things and hurt us in so many different ways. He was tremendous against us.”

During Pittsburgh’s time in the Big East, six Panthers won the league’s Most Improved Player award, with Ashton Gibbs (2010) being the fourth to do so since Dixon replaced Ben Howland as head coach in 2003. Could Wright be headed in that direction? While he’ll certainly have competition in the ACC, with Trevor Cooney (Syracuse), Jake Layman (Maryland) and J.P. Tokoto (North Carolina) among the players who have also made major strides thus far, Wright should be in the discussion.

Pittsburgh was picked to finish sixth in the ACC’s preseason poll, but with Virginia (picked to finish fourth) coming off of a blowout loss at Tennessee and Notre Dame (fifth) having lost Jerian Grant, the Panthers are capable of exceeding those expectations. Whether or not they do so will depend on the continued production being supplied by the likes of Wright, Lamar Patterson (16.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Talib Zanna (11.8, 7.5).

POSTERIZED: Monmouth bench mob goes insane after huge dunk

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Monmouth has arguably been the most entertaining team in college basketball through the season’s first three weeks.

Let’s start with the obvious: They’re a mid-major outfit with a 5-foot-8 point guard that headlines a talented back court, one good enough to have notched upsets at UCLA and, this week, over No. 17 Notre Dame and USC at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

It’s pretty incredible, to be honest. They’ve managed to amass one of college basketball’s best resume despite being a MAAC program with a grand total of four NCAA appearances in their luxurious history.

But what makes this team so much fun isn’t just that they can’t seem to stop beating high-major competition, it’s that, in the process, their bench mob has become one of college basketball’s best.

Want some proof? Watch what happens after this Deon Jones poster dunk:

And here’s the wild part: that wasn’t even close to the best thing the bench did this week.

This was:


But there’s so much more.

Like, for example, the three arrows:

The touchdown pass:

The bench poster:

The heart attack:

They … caught a fish?

And, finally, the ‘OH SHHHHHHHHHHHH’:

Wichita State’s 0-3 week makes chances for at-large bid small

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We’ve reached the nightmare scenario for Wichita State.

Having entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Missouri Valley, a top 15 team and a legitimate threat to reach a Final Four, after two weeks, the Shockers are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament altogether.

That’s not hyperbole, either.

Wichita State fell to 2-4 on the year after getting mollywhopped by Iowa in the 7th-place game of the Advocare Invitational. They ended up in the 7th-place game because they lost to USC and Alabama in the opening two rounds. The Hawkeyes look like the might be able to eke out an at-large berth if things fall the right way for them, but USC and Alabama are projected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Even Iowa would do well to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

Individually, none of those three losses are particularly terrible, and that’s before you factor in that all-american point guard Fred VanVleet sat out the trip to Orlando with a bad hamstring. They were also without back up point guard Landry Shamet in the tournament and it’s unknown when they’ll actually get Anton Grady back to full stretch. That matters to the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ll factor it in when they determine where the Shockers will be seeded, or if they will even get an invite.

But throw in the loss at Tulsa from the first week of the season, and the Shockers are now 2-4 on the season.

And unlike the rest of the preseason top 25 — unlike the rest of the nation’s high-major programs — Wichita State won’t have a chance to load up on quality wins during league play. The Valley is better than we probably realized (more on that in a second), but it’s not like there are going to be a myriad of top 50 wins for the taking.

Look at Georgetown, for example. They Hoyas went 1-3 in the first week of the season, a stretch that included a home loss to Radford. But they also play in a conference where they’ll get home-and-homes against the likes of Villanova, Butler and Xavier.

The Shockers need to do their damage during the non-conference. They need to get the bulk of their resume put together before Valley play starts. Assuming they do win the rest of their non-league games, we’re not exactly looking at a daunting profile, either. The Shockers still have to visit Saint Louis and Seton Hall and host UNLV, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico State. UNLV and Utah should look like quality wins on Selection Sunday, but the rest of them?

Wichita State is putting themselves in a position where they may end up needing to win the Missouri Valley tournament just to get into the Big Dance, and the problem is that the Valley looks like it is really going to be tough this season. Northern Iowa notched a win over North Carolina already this year. Illinois State gave Maryland a fight and entered the season as a favorite to upset the Shockers. Evansville has two of the league’s five best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.

They’re not waltzing through that conference by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s not exactly what VanVleet and Ron Baker had in mind when they decided to return to Wichita for one final season.