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).