Takeaways from Pitt basketball’s SRU scrimmage

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Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore guard Xavier Johnson (1) attacks the hoop during Pitt’s 98-47 victory over Slippery Rock.

By Kyle Saxon, Staff Writer

In their first public contest of the year, the Panthers clobbered Slippery Rock, 98-47. Due to the large discrepancies in talent and coaching between the two sides, a 51-point victory might seem predictable and rather meaningless.

But for an extremely young, growing Pitt team, exhibition games shouldn’t be completely dismissed. The Panthers struggled with some familiar areas from last season, though there’s far more to be excited about than there is to criticize.

Heightened versatility

Last season, head coach Jeff Capel experimented with many different lineups, and the frontcourt proved to be a glaring shortcoming for his team. Pitt’s newcomers made it evident on Wednesday that size will no longer be an issue.

Though the Panthers only rostered two centers for the majority of last season, their true struggle was at the power forward position. In his rookie season, forward Au’Diese Toney was forced out of his natural position on the wing. Pitt lacked any depth at the position, and its biggest problems in conference play came from a lack of size in the post.

This year, first-year forwards Justin Champagnie and Karim Coulibaly appear poised to fill that void.

Coulibaly is a versatile 6-foot-8 power forward that could also see minutes at center. He showed an elite ability to rebound with a team-leading eight boards in just 20 minutes of play. Although he missed some inside shots, Coulibaly is known for his scoring ability, and perhaps just needed to shake out some jitters.

Champagnie, on the other hand, has a valuable skill set at the power forward position. Standing at 6-foot-7, it appeared he would add depth on the wing. But he showcased an unexpected ability to play inside on Wednesday, coming in hot off of the bench with an amazing block early in the game.

Champagnie was limited in his minutes after coming off a knee injury, but his breathtaking athleticism and ability to defend were on full display. He’ll most likely provide minutes at both the small forward and power forward position throughout the season.

The Panthers will look to these newcomers as the remedy for their struggles at the 4-spot. These two rookies are long, athletic players that can defend multiple positions, and their versatility should lead to immediate improvement for Pitt.

Depth across the board

In his first season at Pitt, Capel acknowledged that he lacked ACC-caliber depth in the program’s rebuilding year. Luckily for him, he seems to have plenty of it in his second year.

Depth in the backcourt has never been in question, as the team’s star sophomore duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens will provide stellar guard play. The loss of Sidy N’Dir left a void at the backup point guard position, but McGowens showed that he can step into that role by dishing out eight assists. Junior transfer Ryan Murphy also looked like a sound ball-handler and a player fully capable of running the offense if Johnson and McGowens are both off the floor.

On the wing, Pitt returned Toney and acquired Champagnie and first-year Gerald Drumgoole. Drumgoole is the elite scorer of the three, and he displayed his ability to put the ball in the basket from all three levels, specifically from beyond the arc. Toney remains a slashing forward that rebounds proficiently and can step out and shoot when needed. Champagnie’s aforementioned versatility allows him to play multiple positions and present a matchup nightmare for opposing squads.

Down low, junior center Terrell Brown is joined by Coulibaly, graduate transfer Eric Hamilton and injured senior center Kene Chukwuka. Hamilton displayed his instincts on the glass, grabbing some key rebounds at the start of the second half to spark a Panthers run. Brown appeared to have made some growth in the offseason, going four of six from the field for 10 points.

Many of Pitt’s new recruits can play multiple positions, and there shouldn’t be a particular position where the Panthers lack as they did last year. If Chukwuka can return, Capel is looking at 10 quality ACC contributors on his roster — a drastic improvement from the six or seven he had last year.

Familiar inconsistencies

While the Panthers had a dominant showing, some of their biggest struggles from last year were still apparent.

SRU outrebounded Pitt 24-19 in the first half of the game. In fairness, the Rock missed a lot of shots, and the Panthers got out in transition rather than crashing the defensive glass.

The Panthers made it their mission to grab more rebounds in the second half, winning the full-game rebounding battle 49-38. Against an opponent such as Florida State, however, Pitt won’t be able to recover from such a deficit so easily. Capel will look to utilize his team’s improved size and athleticism to win rebounding battles in the conference.

Free-throw shooting was the one area in which the Panthers struggled mightily, as they did all of last season. Pitt shot 21-36, or 58.3%, from the line. If carried over into the regular season, that figure would be unacceptable. Many of Pitt’s losses last year can be attributed to the number of points it left at the free throw line. To find success in the ACC, the Panthers need to convert on easy points. It may just be an exhibition game, but free-throw shooting still appears to be a shortcoming.

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