College basketball programs are allowed to take one summer trip every four years, and the opportunity to get a head start on figuring out roles ahead of the upcoming season can be of high value to some teams. One program looking to reap those rewards this summer is Pittsburgh, which is coming off of a 26-win season in its ACC debut.
Entering the 2014-15 season Jamie Dixon’s group has an important question to address: how will they account for the graduation of Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna? Those two were Pitt’s leading scorers last season, with Patterson being one of the ACC’s most versatile players. Those are two large gaps to fill, and the Panthers’ four games in the Bahamas will help this current group establish greater on-court chemistry and move closer to finding answers to that highly important question.
The level of competition the Panthers have seen in the Bahamas isn’t at the level they’ll see on winter nights in the ACC, but through two blowout victories one of the positives has been the play of sophomore forward Michael Young. Young averaged 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season, and he’s performed well in wins over the Pyramid Food Rockets and the Bahamas All-Stars.
In Sunday’s 113-59 whipping of the All-Stars Young tallied 18 points to go along with five rebounds, making eight of his ten shots from the field. This effort came on the heels of a 17-point, seven-rebound, five-assist showing in Pitt’s opener on the trip. As a freshman Young reached double figures in scoring just five times, with the only occasion in which he strung together consecutive double-digit outings coming in wins over Loyola Marymount (ten points) and Youngstown State (ten).
With James Robinson and Cameron Wright returning the Panthers have answers on the perimeter, but they need some members of their front court to step forward. One option is Young (with another being Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter), and while it’s difficult to take away too much from his first two games in the Bahamas due to the level of competition the trip will provide him with the extra opportunities needed to get acclimated to a larger role in 2014-15.
Young’s effort led the way on an afternoon that saw five Pitt players finish in double figures, and as a team the Panthers shot 62.2% from the field (78.4% in the first half).
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.