Will the Real John Hugley Please Stand Up?

(Allison Lee Isley/Associated Press)

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for continued Pittsburgh Sports coverage: 

Pitt men's basketball had an odd 3-day stretch over the weekend, playing a home and away against Virginia Tech within 48 hours.  Saturday's game featured a furious comeback from the Panthers, losing 76-71 after being down 27 points at halftime.  Last night's game also saw a 27 point deficit, this time at the conclusion, as they were trounced 74-47.  

There are a number of talking points from these two games, from the lack of three-point defense to stretches of poor offense leading to scoring drought after scoring drought, to the huge comeback they almost pulled off in the first game.  However, the thing I've noticed the most recently is the fall of center John Hugley.

As I watched the start of last night's game, the second consecutive game against the Hokies, I was in shock when I saw the starting lineup that coach Jeff Capel deployed.  John Hugley was on the bench, ceding his starting spot to Noah Collier.  It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise based on his recent play, yet I was still stunned.  

It wasn't all that long ago that I was writing about how Hugley was the rock of this team, especially on the offensive end.  He was the team's greatest scoring threat, while also getting to the foul line at one of the top percentages in the country.  However, these last few games have featured an entirely different John Hugley than we're used to seeing.

I went back and checked the box scores of each of Pitt's current four-game losing streak, dating back to the Boston College game on January 30th.  Hugley's statistics in those games were eye-opening, a real tale of two seasons for the big man.  In the game against Wake Forest, we saw the Hugley we've been accustomed to this season.  He tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds in 33 minutes.  A great performance, even with him only getting four free throw attempts.  

However, the other three games feature drastically different performances.  Against Boston College, Hugley had 9 points and 5 rebounds.  Game 1 against Virginia Tech, 2 points and 4 rebounds.  Game 2 against Virginia Tech, 2 points and 3 rebounds.  That's a total of 13 points in three games.  

The most alarming part is that in those three games, Hugley turned the ball over a total of 17 times.  More turnovers than points.  For a team like Pitt that doesn't get many quality possessions, giving the ball away is a sure way to land yourself on the bench.       

I do believe there are additional reasons Hugley was benched than just his recent box scores.  Virginia Tech plays a spread out offense that looks to beat teams via the three-point line.  As they say, live by the three, die by the three and the Hokies are a true testament to that statement.  

In the two games against Pitt combined, they shot a whopping 27/53 from deep, an astonishing 51%.  This style of offense not only showed Pitt's weakness on defense, but it also highlighted some of Hugley's defensive woes.  There were many times where he would get lost in the screens, leaving his guy wide open for a three-pointer.  Whether it was a communication error or just not understanding his assignment, he looked to constantly be in the wrong position.  

I'm sure this played a huge factor in Capel's decision to not start him.  While Capel subbed him into the game only three minutes into it after not starting him, he quickly pulled him after a few miscues.  It's become pretty obvious that his recent play hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

This Pitt team looks to have progressed and regressed over the course of the season, and it appears John Hugley is no exception.  We've gone from the days when double-doubles were the norm for Hugley to now not even being a member of the starting lineup.  While it very well could have been a matchup-based decision by Capel, his recent numbers have been telling and certainly played a factor.  The fatigue that comes over the course of a season could also be playing an issue, with this being his first full season as a Panther.  

Nonetheless, his dip in play is giving us Panthers fans a cause for concern.  Forward Mo Gueye has stepped into the scoring role in Hugley's absence but it would be great to see scoring from the full complement of players, especially the one you consider to be the backbone of the team.  I'm hoping this was just a rough stretch of games for the center and that he will return to his old form before season's end.  They sure could use his dominant play down low to finish out the season on a high note and give the fans something to be excited about heading into next season.