PITTSBURGH — When Miami came into town and took down Pitt by a score of 85-64 on Tuesday, the Panthers got to take a look at one of the best point guards in the conference, Charlie Moore, and see how important a true point man can be for a team.
From the moment the game began, Moore, standing at 5-foot-11, took over from the point. He opened the scoring by confidently draining an open three. Two possessions later? Dropped a dime to Sam Waardenburg for an open three, and bam, Miami leads 8-2 and has already silenced the Petersen Events Center.
Throughout the game, Moore dazzled, not only with his shooting — 7 for 10 on the night — but also with his passing ability (five assists), dribbling ability (only one turnover), and most importantly his ability to control the Hurricanes offense and make his teammates better. He finished with 19 points on 40% three-point shooting, while his fellow back court mates Kam McGusty, Isaiah Wong, and Jordan Miller combined for 35 points of their own.
“They have elite level guards,” Capel said after the game. “I know we haven’t played everyone yet, we have one team that we haven’t played, but that is the best back court that we have played against. They’re all really good ball handlers, they’re elite shotmakers, they can create off the bounce, they can shoot it with range, they can get mid-range, and they were able to do it all tonight.”
Neither of Pitt’s starting guards, Femi Odukale and Jamarius Burton, are considered true point guards. Burton thrives off the ball, and is not as comfortable shooting the three as most point men. He is most comfortable shooting in the mid-range, and does not have the speed or quickness to be categorized as a one. Odukale is best when he is driving, but does not have the outside skill set that a true point guard would.
Neither has asserted themselves as an elite ball handler, another important characteristic of an ideal point guard. While both have been solid players for Pitt all year, neither one has really fit the one spot, and that is hurting the Panthers severely. As a team, the Panthers have been turning the ball over at an extremely high rate — 13.9 times per game, which ranks 277th in the nation — and have not had the control from the point that is necessary to run a comfortable and successful offense.
Passing wise, Odukale ranks as the No. 10 player in the ACC in assists per game, averaging 3.5, which is not bad. However, it does not take much digging to find a statistic that all but cancels that one out. Odukale has turned the ball over 82 times. His overall assist to turnover ratio is 97:82, or 1.18, which ranks him No. 335 in the nation in that statistic out of all players. Burton is not far ahead in that category either. He currently has 68 assists to his 53 turnovers, which makes his ratio 1.28.
This is not to say that Odukale and Burton are bad players, because they have been huge for Pitt this season. However, they are being forced into roles that they are not comfortable in, and if Pitt does not go out and get a true point guard for next season, there will be clear limits on the team’s overall improvement, especially its guard play.
Last season, Miami was 10-17 overall and 4-13 in ACC play. They added a true point guard in Charlie Moore in the offseason and now is likely an NCAA Tournament team.
So Pitt has a template to copy this offseason but will they find their own Moore in the portal? Gonna have to.
— Tristan Freeman (@hoopsnut351) February 23, 2022
GUEYE’S IMPACT FELT QUICKLY AFTER INJURY
After Miami came out scorching hot to a 14-2 lead, the Panthers needed points quickly to stay in the ballgame early on. For those points, they looked to their graduate transfer Mo Gueye. He knocked down each of his first three shots, including two threes, and a put-back dunk, leading Pitt on a 10-0 run and bringing the Panthers back into the game.
However, shortly after the run, Gueye went up for a dunk over a Miami defender, and things quickly took a turn for the worst. Gueye missed the dunk and slammed down hard into the ground below, only to see the referee call a charging foul on him. He stayed on the ground for a minute or two, clearly in serious pain, until jogging off the court into the locker room holding his arm.
“It was a sprained wrist,” Capel said about Gueye’s injury. “There was no structural damage from the X-ray we took. He came back out obviously and played the second half, but he was in pain and so I took him out and decided to get him some rest and try to get him ready for next week.”
Without Gueye, the Panthers turned to John Hugley for offensive help while Ithiel Horton and Burton both struggled from outside.
“We’re a different team when he’s out of the game for us,” Capel said. “He can protect the basket, he can also space it on offense with his ability to shoot the basketball, and so we are a different basketball team. That was a big blow for us, but they were getting downhill even before that at times.”
TURNOVERS A MASSIVE PROBLEM ALL YEAR
One of the most glaring statistical stories in Tuesday night’s loss was Pitt’s turnover numbers.
The Panthers turned the ball over 20 times in the loss, compared to Miami’s 12. Off of those turnovers, Miami scored 30 points, and Pitt just 13.
“We dug ourselves a hole with the turnovers once again,” Capel said. “Coming into the game we talked about that we have to be strong with and value the ball, if we do that, we’ll get good looks and it’s just a matter of knocking them down. When we did that, we got good looks, we shot 48% from the field, but it was just entirely too many turnovers. That’s an area that’s plagued us all year, and it showed up again tonight, and so that was I think one of the big differences of the game, the turnover margin.”
Pitt has now turned the ball over at least 20 times three times this season and has turned the ball over at least 14 times in each of its last four games. When it comes to turnover margin, the Panthers rank dead last in the ACC as well as No. 331 in the nation, which is four spots below 6-21 Chicago State and seven spots below 7-21 Robert Morris.
“We tried to talk about it and showed them a lot of tape and talked about the areas of opportunities that were open, we just weren’t strong. We just weren’t strong with the basketball, we were too loose. We told them they were going to reach, they were going to gamble, they were going to shoot the passing lanes, but if we are strong and we’re able to work to get open and make strong decisions and passes, we’ll get wide open looks. When we did that, we did get wide open looks, but we didn’t do it enough. Way, way, way not enough.
HUGLEY BUILDING CONSISTENCY
After a three-game span from Feb. 5 to Feb. 9 in which John Hugley scored a combined 11 points, concerns began to arise about the sophomore’s ability to handle double-teams and different looks that the defenses sent him.
In those games, Hugley looked as though he has lost his magic, which had been being comfortable in the uncomfortable moments. Hugley had been putting up monster scoring numbers all year, and his coach Capel still looked at one skill — passing — as his best. He was looking more and more like a complete player until that three-game skid.
However, now, with four-straight games of at least 18 points and three straight with two turnovers or less, he looks as though he has gotten through another bump in the road. He has shot over 60% in each of Pitt’s last four games. He has grabbed at least seven rebounds in three of the last four and has two double doubles in that span.
Hugley appears to be all but through his skid and has been doing his part in helping the team add points when it needs them most.
MUCH NEEDED BREAK
After the loss on Tuesday, Pitt now has a week off before it takes on Duke next Tuesday, once again at the Petersen Events Center.
“It’s welcomed,” Capel said about the week off. “For whatever reason, I don’t know, it seems like every year our bye is at the end. I think, and you know, I am not making an excuse, I know we are a tired, banged-up basketball team. We have had a lot of games, we really haven’t had many off days. Since we played Syracuse here, I think we’ve had two off days since then. Yeah, it’s been a long time. We’ve had these games, we’ve had makeup games, we had a game pushed because of weather, and it’s been a lot. So, this will be welcomed for us, this will be very, very welcomed.”
The Panthers have played eight games in the month of February, including a span of four games in seven days from Feb. 5 to Feb. 12. Now, the team gets a much-needed break before its last two regular season games against Duke and Notre Dame.
“I’m tired physically, but you’ve got to keep going mentally,” Hugley said after the game. “You can’t let the physical tiredness outweigh the mental, so we just have to keep pushing through. Everybody in the country is tired. Every team in the country is tired. We’ve just got to keep pushing through.’
“We can give our guys a chance for their bodies to recover,” Capel continued. “Mentally to recover, and to get away from basketball for a couple of days. We’ll give them Wednesday and Thursday off, besides coming in and getting treatment. Then we’ll get back together on Friday and start worrying about us for a couple of days, then on Sunday we will start diving into our opponent.”
That game against Duke will tip-off at 8 p.m. on ACC Network.