PITTSBURGH — Any time a basketball team puts together an 11-player class, there are bound to be some stars and there are also bound to be some misses. That’s just the way the percentages work with a class like that.
Usually, it’s pretty clear early on who fits into the star category, and for the 2017-18 Pitt Panthers, that’s pretty clearly Marcus Carr and Shamiel Stevenson.
Carr dropped 23 on Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday, a new career high. But it’s not exactly a surprise anymore. He’s cracked double digits in five of his last six games. In that span, he’s averaging 15.4 points per game.
It’s not just the volume, either. Carr has over 50 percent from the floor in five of six, as well. He was 7 of 13 against the Mountaineers, Tuesday, making both contested layups in the paint and 2 of his 4 three pointers. Carr has also been Pitt’s most reliable free-throw shooter. He was 7 of 8 against Mount St. Marys, making five in overtime to seal the Panthers’ 82-78 victory and improving to 29-of-31 (93.5 percent) on the season.
Carr also seems to want the ball in big moments, making a layup with under a minute in regulation to give Pitt a late lead and then just missing a 3-point chance at the buzzer before overtime.
“Marcus is a take-charge guy and he has some abilities, so it’s nice to see that,” head coach Kevin Stallings said Tuesday. “I did think that, late in the game, when he narrowly missed that three to win the game, I thought we got in an ‘I’m going to do it myself’ mode. We’ve got to do things as a team, and we can’t lose sight of that. We have to have a constant awareness of who we are, and a constant awareness of who we are not. We did make some good individual plays. Marcus made some. Jared [Wilson-Frame] got to the hole and got fouled. It’s good
that we lived to tell about it.”
The last time Pitt started a true freshman point guard was James Robinson in 2012-13. Most Pitt fans know the kind of player Robinson turned out to be: an assist-to-turnover ratio genius that never quite became a star on account of his own scoring prowess. Let’s see how Carr stacks up through the first nine games of their careers:
If Carr can clean up his turnovers and improve his assist-to-turnover ratio without taking much away from his offensive game, he has the potential to become one of the better point guards in recent Pitt history.
Stevenson, on the other hand, is made of his own mold. The 6-foot-6 freshman has the height of a wing player. But his long arms, athletic jumping ability and pure power have him playing inside against much bigger players.
The transition from high school to the college level is tough for any forward. They go from being the biggest, toughest player on the floor to just another big body getting pushed around in the paint. Terrell Brown and Peace Ilegomah have showed the ups and downs typical of young freshmen forwards.
There have been times when Stevenson looks like he’s had no issue adjusting. On Tuesday, he shot 4 of 5 from the floor and added six free throws for 14 points against Mount St. Mary’s. He also had nine rebounds, just one short of his first career double-double.
But there have been games when Stevenson looked like a player facing bigger, older competition. Against Penn State, he had two points and three rebounds while shooting 1 of 5. Even against Lehigh, he had six point on 1 of 4 shooting and two rebounds.
It’s just about consistency for Stevenson, and how consistently he can be the player that dominated Mount St. Mary’s as opposed to the one that came up small against Penn State.
But for one of Pitt’s other freshmen, the future ceiling and floor haven’t been so clear. Shooting guard Khameron Davis was the only one of Pitt’s seven freshmen that didn’t choose to come to the program over another high-major offer.
Davis was said to be an able defender, but very little else was known about his game before he came to Pitt. Then, a plantar fasciitis injury before the season opener had him playing in his first few contests at well below 100 percent.
Feeling healthier, Davis had his best game of the season against the Mountaineers on Tuesday, putting up a career-high 12 points while also contributing on the defensive side of the ball.
“His presence out there was really good from the defensive standpoint,” Stallings said. “He can make open shots and he’s becoming a better attacker of the goal, which is nice to see, too.”
If Davis can emerge as an offensive threat to go along with his defense, he, combined with Carr and Parker Stewart, could be the building blocks of a strong backcourt in the future.