lair – In the film room: Early impressions of the Pitt women’s team

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 have not had a chance to see the Pitt women’s team play, you are missing out. They play a disciplined yet exciting brand of basketball that deserves more attention. In effort to shed light on that, I have put together my early impressions of the starting lineup to introduce the primary contributors.

Channise Lewis – Graduate Guard: Lewis is going to be the in starting lineup as long as she remains healthy. The former top-100 ranked player in high school (No. 55 in 2017 per ESPN) and Maryland Terrapin, it once looked as though she might be forced to step away from basketball due to multiple season-ending knee injuries. But her addition to the Panthers in early May has allowed teammate, Dayshanette Harris, to slide over to the off-guard position which has opened things up for her and the team.

Lewis is a steady lead guard who drives, either looking to finish or create for others. She moves the ball in the half court, often helping to connect passes to open teammates. Lewis has good vision in transition, hunting for open players or getting the ball ahead so they can make a play for someone else.

In the half court, she has been a knock-down three-point shooter through three games, connecting on 5-of-11 (45.5%) attempts so far. Defensively, Lewis has held up at the point of attack rather well. Her ability to move laterally will be put to the test in ACC play, but she has plenty of time to get ready for that.

Dayshanette Harris – Senior Guard: Harris is a one of one for Pitt. A three-level scorer who represents the Panthers’ lone path in the starting lineup for true shot creation off the dribble, she plays with an intensity and fire that helps mold the identity of the team on both ends of the floor.

f the Panthers need a basket, they are going to look to Harris. And if she can push her efficiency into the low 40’s, that would greatly help raise the ceiling of the team. On the plus side, Harris has seen her turnovers per game average drop every season. While leadership is not something that can be measured, if she can put it all together in her senior year, it is hard to imagine this team not racking up more than two conference wins this season.

Maliyah Johnson – Sophomore Forward: There likely is not going to be a more improved player on the roster than Johnson. She is a stat-stuffer who does a little bit of everything 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 it be in the half court or in transition, Johnson stretches the floor from the forward position while still helping on the boards. While three-pointers represent nearly 62% of her total attempts, she can put the ball on the floor and get all the way to the basket. Like Harris, it is important that Johnson hold reasonable efficiency for this Panthers team to reach their potential.

Amber Brown – Senior Forward: No one attacks the offensive glass quite 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.

Brown has a nose for the ball and has no issue with mixing it up down low on put-back attempts. She also has a decent face-up game and can put the ball on the floor with her right hand to work her way to the rim to try and finish. Much like Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun, Brown is hyper efficient from the field – 12-of-17 (70.6%) – as a player that mostly looks to score within five feet from the basket. Like every Panther, it seems, she is a willing passer and can initiate the fast break.

Liatu King – Junior Forward: The only player averaging at least 10 rebounds per game (10.7), King clears the glass on both ends for a team that does not have the top-end size. She also leads the teams in blocks with two per game and is their most reliable backline defender.

Like Brown, King feasts on offensive boards and put-back attempts. She can also get all the way to the rim on drives and has a nice jumper out to 15 feet as well. King and Brown work well together in their high-low game and can perform either role seamlessly. Despite that 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 has been one of the first players off the bench in the last two contests. Her range extends from beyond the arc, and she can utilize the dribble to create space or to get to spots on the floor that she is comfortable shooting from.

Much like Brown and King, Hutcherson and Johnson share a connection as well. Unlike the former pairing, the latter two do their damage on the perimeter a la some two-man game. There is certainly a path for Hutcherson to appear in the starting lineup again, but she has firmly cemented her role on the team as a Katie Lou Samuelson type of player.

Before I tackle 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, Washenitz

Lead Guard (1) – At Least One: Lewis, Hayford, Washenitz

I do not think head coach Lance White is going to go with 11 players once conference play starts. This is just my top 11 with Ezeja, Clesca and Strother currently on the outside looking in.

The Panthers like to run with two forwards and either a third forward like Johnson and Exanor and/or a bigger guard like Strickland and Malcolm. Harris is unique and to a similar extent so is Lewis; I do think Hayford has done a good job as the backup point guard.

Horns Stagger Away Flex for King:

It starts in a Horns look by two of the forwards, usually Brown and King. Either Johnson or Strickland will use the staggered away screens or just make an Iverson cut above the free throw line to receive a pass on the wing. The off-guard, almost always Harris, sets a flex, cross or rip screen depending on how King’s defender positions herself as the above is happening which frees King to the left block, preferably on a switch with Harris’ defender. King ideally goes to work here.

The timing is off in the final sequence in the above, but Pitt can flow right into a high post entry to Brown who gets all the way to the basket for a layup.

Flex Horns Get:

Sometimes the flex screen is set (second sequence) and sometimes it is more of a ghost screen (first sequence) as the timing needs to still result in a Horns look prior to the pass into the high post. Once the pass is made to the high post, the player who passes the ball immediately comes and gets (get action) a handoff while the player who receives the pass lifts above the three-point line. In both instances, Strickland receives the pass back after she lifts. As one of the most explosive players on the team, this gives her a lot of room to operate. A straight-away triple is available or a pass into King after she releases from the cross screen.

Hopefully, that gave you a reasonable overview of the players currently logging the most minutes contribute to the team and some of their offensive sets. I planned on putting a “Path to Playing Time” section in here to talk about Hayford, Exanor, Strickland, Malcolm and Washenitz. But that is going to have to be another piece where I will include the team’s transition philosophies as well as a breakdown of what they like to do defensively. If you like this analysis on the women’s team, please let me know in the forums or on Twitter. I am planning 4-6 of these throughout the season but would be willing to do more if there is demand.