It will be a battle of 3-0 teams today when the Pitt Panthers take on the Duquesne Dukes at the Petersen Events Center. If you haven’t had a chance to see the Pitt women’s team play, you’re missing out. They play a disciplined but exciting brand of basketball that deserves more attention. In an effort to shed some light on this, I’ve put together my first impressions of the starting line-up to showcase the key contributors.
Channise Lewis – Graduate Guard: Lewis will be the starting lineup as long as he stays healthy. The former top-100 ranked high school player (No. 55 in 2017 by ESPN) and Maryland Terrapin, it once looked like she might be forced out of basketball due to multiple season-ending knee injuries. But her addition to the Panthers in early May allowed teammate Dayshanette Harris to drop to the off-guard position which opened things up for her and the team.
Lewis is a solid lead guard who drives, whether he’s looking to finish or create for others. He moves the ball in the half court, often helping to connect passes to open teammates. Lewis has good vision in transition, chasing down open players or getting the ball forward so they can make a play for someone else.
In the half court, he’s been a three-point winner in three games, going 5-of-11 (45.5%) so far. Defensively, Lewis held up pretty well at the point of attack. Her ability to move laterally will be tested in ACC play, but she has plenty of time to prepare for it.
Dayshanette Harris – Senior Guard: Harris is one of two for Pete. A three-tier scorer who represents the Panthers’ lone starting lineup path for true shot creation off the dribble, he plays with an intensity and fire that helps shape the team’s identity on both ends of the floor.
If the Panthers need a basket, they’ll look to Harris. And if she can push her efficiency into the low 40’s, that would go a long way toward raising the team’s ceiling. On the plus side, Harris has seen her turnovers per game average decrease each season. While leadership isn’t something that can be measured, if she can put it all together in her senior year, it’s hard to imagine this team not getting more than two conference wins this season.
Maliyah Johnson – Sophomore Forward: There probably won’t be a more improved player on the roster than Johnson. She’s a flashy do-it-all for this Pitt team: 10.7 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 1.7 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game.
Always ready to shoot, whether in the half court or in transition, Johnson stretches the floor from the forward position while still helping on the boards. While 3-pointers account for nearly 62% of her total attempts, she can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. Like Harris, it’s important that Johnson be reasonably effective for this Panthers team to reach its potential.
Amber Brown – Senior Forward: Nobody attacks the offensive glass like Brown. Against the Bryant Bulldogs, all three of her rebounds were on the offensive end. she is the only player for Pitt with more offensive boards than defensive ones.
Brown has a nose for the ball and has no problem mixing it up low on layup attempts. She also has a decent face-up game and can put the ball on the floor with her right hand to get to the rim to try and finish. Like the Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas, Brown is very efficient from the field – 12 of 17 (70.6%) – as a player who looks to score within 5 meters of the basket. Like every Panther, it seems, he’s a willing passer and can start the fast break.
Liatu King – Junior Forward: The only player to average at least 10 rebounds per game (10.7), King cleans up the glass on both ends for a team that lacks top-level size. He also leads the teams in blocks with two per game and is their most reliable back line defender.
Like Brown, King feasts on offensive boards and tries to put back. He can also get to the rim on drives and has a nice jumper at 15 feet as well. King and Brown work well together in their high-low game and can pull off any role seamlessly. Yet their skill sets overlap in many ways. they also complement each other.
Gabby Hutcherson – Junior Forward: A former Ohio State Buckeye, Hutcherson started the first game of the year and was one of the first players off the bench in the final two contests. Her range extends beyond the arc and she can use the dribble to create space or get to spots on the floor that she is comfortable shooting from.
Like Brown and King, Hutcherson and Johnson also share a connection. Unlike the first pair, the latter two do their damage on the perimeter a la some two-man game. There is certainly a way for Hutcherson to return to the starting lineup, but she has firmly established herself in the team as a Katie Lou Samuelson-type player.
Before I get into my favorite two sets that Pitt has run, I want to quickly dive into how I think this rotation is shaping up:
Big Forwards (5 & 4) – Always two: King, Brown, Hutcherson, Johnson
Flex Forward/Bigger Guard (4 & 3) – At least one: Johnson, Exanor, Strickland, Malcolm
Off-guard (2) – At least one: Harris, Hayford, Malcolm, Wasenich
Lead Guard (1) – At least one: Lewis, Hayford, Washenitz
I don’t think coach Lance White will go with 11 players once conference play begins. This is just my top 11 with Ezeja, Clesca and Strother looking out.
The Panthers like to run two forwards and either a third forward like Johnson and Exanor and/or a bigger guard like Strickland and Malcolm. Harris is unique and so is Lewis. I think Hayford did a good job as a backup point guard.
Horns Stagger Away Flex for King:
It starts with the Horns being looked at by two of the forwards, usually Brown and King. Either Johnson or Strickland will use staggered away screens or simply cut Iverson above the free throw line to receive a pass to the wing. The off guard, almost always Harris, sets a flex, cross or rip screen depending on how King’s defender is positioned as the above occurs, which frees King up on the left block, preferably on a switch with Harris’ defender . King goes perfectly for work here.
The timing is off on the final sequence above, but Pitt is able to get right in on a high post to Brown who drives all the way to the basket for a layup.
Flex Horns Get:
Sometimes the flex screen is set (second sequence) and sometimes it’s more of a phantom screen (first sequence) as the timing should result in the Horns appearing before the high post pass. Once the pass is made to the high post, the passer immediately comes up and takes (take action) a handoff while the receiver rises above the three-point line. In both cases, Strickland gets the pass back after picking up. As one of the team’s most explosive players, this gives her plenty of room to operate. A 3-pointer is available immediately or a pass to King after being released from the cross screen.
Hopefully this has given you a reasonable overview of the players who log the most minutes currently contributing to the team and some of their offensive sets. I was planning on putting a “Path to Playing Time” section here to talk about Hayford, Exanor, Strickland, Malcolm and Washenitz. But that will have to be another piece where I include the team’s transition philosophies as well as a breakdown of what they like to do defensively. If you like this analysis of the women’s team, let me know in the forums or at Twitter. I plan on 4-6 of these over the course of the season, but would be willing to do more if there is demand.