Pitt Hoops In Desperate Need of an Inside Presence

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

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It has been a long time since Pitt Basketball was worth watching during conference play.  It has also been a long time since Pitt depended heavily on the 3-point shooting of its guards.  Well both aren't just true of this season's Panthers, they are the heavy narratives.

This is easily the best Pitt team since Jamie Dixon left for TCU.  The Panthers have become appointment television again, and the Petersen Events Center finally has an electric atmosphere again.  Pitt started 4-0 in the conference, and has taken a couple heartbreaking losses as of late, but it's one of their best starts in the ACC since joining the conference.

Pitt also lives and dies by the 3-pointer.  So far in 2022-23, they have attempted 25.5 shots per game from behind the arc and have made 8.6 per game.  That ranks Pitt 2nd and 4th in the ACC in those stats respectively.  The Panthers also get 34.7% of their points from made 3-pointers, which is 3rd in the conference.  The problem is, they are making just 33.9% of their 3-pointers, which is 8th in the conference.

However, the rate at which the Panthers are are attempting or making their shots from behind the arc is not their biggest problem.  In fact, the reason they have to take so many 3-point attempts is because Pitt has struggled mightily underneath the basket.  The eye ball test would tell you this is true.  Pitt rarely has easy layups, dunks, or even points in transition.  Every big shot seems to come from deep range.  I don't even remember a dunk from the Panthers since Nike Sibande forcefully threw one down in the win over North Carolina back on December 30th.  

The numbers also agree with the eye ball test.  Pitt is getting just 34.7 points per game from 2-point shots.  That's 11th in the ACC.  The Panthers also only get 46.4% of their points off of 2-point shots.  That ranks them 12th in the conference.  

It's a true testament to how good the Panther guards have been from shooting from behind the arc.  Because with these types of 2-point numbers, Pitt should not have the success they've seen so far.   But it just cannot last through the entire ACC schedule.  An inside presence is essential to be successful long-term through the rest of the regular season, ACC tournament, and NCAA tournament, if Pitt is lucky enough to make it this year.  

Going back to the eye ball test, anyone who has watched Pitt's games can see the problem.  Fede Federiko can't seem to get anything going on the offensive end.  He has missed layups, doesn't get much separation from defenders, and has a weird inability to dunk for a 7-footer.  It almost appears as if Fede is afraid to dunk and come down wrong or something along those lines.

The Diaz Graham twins are simply too young and thin to go up against a lot of the centers in the ACC.  Honestly, I don't know the difference between the two so I'm not going to pretend to know which one is better than the other, but when they are underneath they get beat up.  Until they put some muscle on this offseason, they cannot be depended on for points down low.  

Now, the easy fix is of course last season's best player, John Hugley, returning.  He is absolutely the difference between this season and last season's inside presence.  However, I don't know what's going on with Hugley and I'm not going to speculate.  All I know is that he was injured coming into the season, and it's not confirmed whether he is still injured or not.  But he's still not suiting up.  

I also know that Hugley would be a vast improvement under the basket than those who have attempted to take his place this season.  If Hugley were to return, there isn't much wrong with the offensive side of this Pitt team.  Whatever is going on with him, I wish him the best and I hope for a speedy recovery.  Pitt would be an absolute force offensively if Hugley were to return healthy by the end of the season.  He would also add to the Panther's already-improved depth from last season.

Unfortunately, we still don't have any news on Hugley.  So either the Diaz Graham twins start taking steroids (kidding), Fede learns to dunk, or the 3-pointers need to keep falling.  In the meantime, Pitt will continue to live and die by the 3.