Welp, Pitt finally cracks the AP and Coaches Polls. Coming in at #22 and #21 respectively. Huzzah!
Lamar Patterson was named ACC Player of the Week for the second time this season. It oddly feels like his performance is being taken for granted. We acknowledge he is playing really well. That this team would be in big trouble if he hadn’t raised his game — which is really impressive when you think about the steady improvement he has shown in the past three seasons. Each year, getting better. Improving facets of his game and his conditioning. And the improved maturity. And versatility.
Durand Johnson will have knee surgery to repair his torn ACL and meniscus in the right knee this week.
“When he pulled himself out, I wanted to stay positive, but he’s never pulled himself out of a game, so I thought something was up,” Dixon said Sunday. “I didn’t want to think that way. When he got up, I felt better. But he went back in and then pulled himself out.”
Johnson is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday at UPMC South Side. Pitt (15-1, 3-0 ACC) will play at Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-2) at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
“We are thoroughly heartbroken for Durand,” Dixon said. “With his passion for the game and outstanding work ethic, Durand has contributed significantly to our success. He has made so much improvement in all facets of his game this year.
“I expect that same passion and work ethic to help Durand return at 100 percent next season.”
Rehab usually goes 9-12 months. As expected, this will also mean increased minutes for Chris Jones, Josh Newkirk and Jamel Artis. But that doesn’t happen without the versatility of players on this team. Starting with Lamar Patterson. If your best player is willing to move and do things at other spots, everyone else falls in line with what is happening.
“I think really the four freshmen will be the guys who will get the most opportunity to step in, and all of them have shown they are capable,” Dixon said. “I think Josh Newkirk is a guy who has proven he can handle more and so has Mike [Young] and Jamel [Artis], and we have already been doing some more with Chris Jones. So, I think we should be OK in terms of finding some players to step in.”
One player who clearly will be leaned on a little more — as if he doesn’t already carry enough of a load –is senior Lamar Patterson, who is coming off a huge week in which he averaged 23 points in wins against Maryland and Wake Forest and was named the ACC player of the week for the second time this season.
Dixon said Patterson has been a jack-of-all trades anyway and will continue to do so, and his ability to play three positions gives the coaches considerable flexibility in developing a new rotation.
A good reason for Patterson thriving, is the ball movement on the team. Patterson is exceptional at moving without the ball. He is okay at taking his man off the dribble, but that should not be his game with any regularity. There is a lot more ball movement this year.
Point guard James Robinson said it starts with the example set by Pitt’s top two scorers, Patterson and Talib Zanna.
“We have a team made up of all unselfish players,” Robinson said. “I think we’re all capable passers. That’s something we try to do: We make sure we share the ball, make sure we get an open shot.”
It’s no accident freshmen are following suit.
“Sharing the ball and everyone getting involved is fun,” said Patterson, whose 68 assists lead the team. “The game is fun, and you want to make sure all of your friends and teammates are involved.”
Freshman guard Josh Newkirk beat a defender off the dribble with a spin move and found Zanna open for a baseline dunk in the first half Saturday. Later, a tic-tac-toe play from Patterson to Newkirk led to a Chris Jones basket. Jamel Artis got the rebound on a 3-point miss and dished to Patterson for a layup.
“We recruit guys that already have that tool, that instinct and that ability,” Dixon said. “It might not show up high in rankings. If a guy jumps higher or dunks it better, he’d probably get ranked higher than the guy who passes and throws it to the open guy. … We look for guys like that.”
And part of the reason for the extra ball movement has nothing to do with selfish or “me first” players. It has to do with the team’s ability to handle the ball. Cam Wright is much improved in ball handling and Zanna has gotten better over his time at Pitt. Robinson and Newkirk are point guards, so, yeah. The other freshmen are all willing and able to handle the ball without fumbling it. Much more polish on their ball handling as freshmen than we have seen in years past.
Of course, all this good feelings and positivity go out the window if Pitt doesn’t take care of Georgia Tech on the road tonight. I’ll be putting up the open thread close to game time. It’s 9pm on ESPNU.