PITTSBURGH — Throughout the 2018-19 season, Pitt’s inability to hang in the paint with the Panthers ACC brethren has been evident.
But most of the focus has been at center, where Pitt’s Terrell Brown has shown marked improvement from his freshman season, but is still outclassed on a regular basis. Junior Kene Chukwuka has struggled to rise to Brown’s level and provide a legitimate bench option behind him.
But Pitt also has a matchup problem at power forward that has gone a bit more unnoticed. Pitt has played with four guards on the floor for nearly the entire season — except when the Panthers have occasionally played with five guards.
For the most part, it’s been 6-foot-6 freshman guard Au’Diese Toney that’s been assigned to guard the second-biggest opposing player, and at times, he’s done extremely well. Toney shut down 6-foot-7 Louisville wing Jordan Nwora in the first matchup between the teams, and while Nwora scored 16 points in the second matchup, his combined 8 for 30 shooting against the Panthers (26 percent) is a significant departure from his overall 47 percent success rate this season.
The first time Pitt played Syracuse, Toney helped hold 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward Oshae Brissett to 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting (36 percent). But the second time Pitt played Syracuse, Toney was limited minutes-wise while recovering from a right hand injury and Brissett went off for 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting and also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Even with Toney at full strength, Brissett is a mismatch as a player that is two inches taller than Toney, but still has the ability to step outside and shoot, the quickness to put the ball on the ground and the physicality to out-rebound even bigger players.
“I’ve been a big fan of his as a player,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said after the game. “He’s got really good size, very athletic, he can score, he can do it from three, from mid-range, can get to the rim, he’s gotten stronger during his time.”
In short, players with that combination of size, skill and strength are extraordinarily tough matchup problems, and there’s a reason that the stretch four has become one of the most coveted skillsets.
That’s not really what Toney is, though he’s going to be stuck guarding players like that for at least the rest of this season.
“We don’t have anyone like that,” Capel said. “We have bigs — two — and we have all guards. We don’t have a guy like that, so that’s a tough matchup for us.”
When Pitt visits Wake Forest on Tuesday night, they’ll be facing a similar talent in 6-foot-8 Demon Deacons forward Jaylen Hoard. A native of France, Hoard has quickly picked up the American game, averaging a team-high 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while playing the power forward spot for Wake Forest.
“Hoard is very talented,” Capel said on Monday. “We have to be together defensively and try to find a way to make them take contested shots and not let them get into a rhythm.”
The Panthers and Demon Deacons are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.