PITTSBURGH — Ever since Ryan Luther’s season ended prematurely with a stress reaction in his right foot, Pitt has a problem competing in the post.
It’s a problem that’s been more evident on some nights than others, but it reared its ugly head again on Sunday afternoon against Louisville.
The Cardinals, playing without leading scorer and junior forward Deng Adel, used three players 6-foot-9 or taller against the Panthers. There was senior 7-footer Anas Mahmoud, junior 6-foot-10 forward Ray Spalding and off the bench, 6-foot-11 freshman Malik Williams.
Pitt also played three players 6-foot-9 or taller against the Cardinals. There was starting 6-foot-10 freshman center Terrell Brown and 6-foot-9 forwards sophomore Kene Chukwuka and freshman Peace Ilegomah.
The three Louisville players combined to play 59 minutes. Pitt’s combined for 54. In those minutes, the three Louisville forwards scored 32 points. Pitt’s trio had seven.
That difference accounted for 25 points of Louisville’s 36-point margin of victory.
“Their length is really problematic for us and it certainly was today” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “Louisville is probably as bad of a matchup for us as anyone.”
It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting much better for the Panthers, despite Brown having a couple good offensive games over the last week. In fact, the issue is much more prominent on the defensive side, where none of three have had much success guarding ACC-caliber bigs.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Stallings said. “Our guys were fighting and trying to stop them. We couldn’t stop them. … We’re just not as good as the team we just played. We’re not as good as most of them.”
NO HELP IN SIGHT
Of course, Pitt doesn’t exactly have a 7-footer coming anytime soon. In addition to the team’s current three bigs, they’ll have senior Ryan Luther and freshman Bryce Golden in the mix in 2018-19, but at 6-foot-9, they’re both undersized to battle the biggest of the ACC’s big men.
The only way that Pitt is going to have an impactful post presence in the near future is if Brown finds a way to develop his game beyond what he’s shown for most of this season.
There have been stretches where he’s shown the offensive ability to contribute in a meaningful way. He scored 14 against North Carolina and 19 against Clemson.
“This is a tough process that we’re going through to try to figure out how to become a better team and better players,” Stallings said.
DEFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
Pitt’s defense is rated as the No. 150 defense in the country according to KenPom.com, which doesn’t sound like much, but considering the Panthers offense sits at No. 277, it’s clear about which side of the ball the Panthers are better.
The Defensive Rating statistic, which that team number is based on, can also be applied individually. On an individual level, it tends to treat post players differently than guards. Brown’s 105.1 is the team’s best individual rating, which means that teams score just over 105 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.
The best guard is Khameron Davis, with 108.5 rating. The fact that Davis is the team’s best perimeter defender isn’t surprising. After all, that was one of the reasons he was brought to Pitt. But the fact that all of Pitt’s guards are allowing between 1.085 and 1.124 points per possession is pretty disconcerting.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
The rest of Pitt’s players beside the three bigs have shown flashes of positive performances. Shamiel Stevenson was the latest. He posted 15 points and five rebounds against the Cardinals, his largest total in either category in over a month. Parker Stewart was 3 of 6 from 3-point range and had 12 points.
But while those two scored above their season averages, Jared Wilson-Frame (11), Marcus Carr (9) and Khameron Davis (0) all fell below their marks.
Stewart said the team feels that they have yet to put together a total team performance.
“We haven’t really had everybody on our team contribute what they can do in the same game,” he said. “Once we figure out how to get everybody playing to their full potential on the same night, we’ll give somebody a problem.”
DOESN’T GET EASIER
Boston College is the next opponent for the Panthers. When the Eagles come to the Pete on Tuesday, they’ll have lost 11 straight games to Pitt. So that should be a good chance for a Pitt victory, right?
Not quite. The Eagles have victories over then-No. 1 Duke and are coming off a win over Miami where Jerome Robinson scored 29 points. He had 46 in a loss to Notre Dame earlier in the week.
“Their guards are incredible,” Stallings said. “It’s not a break. It’s another good team in a really terrific league.”