Den – In the Movie Room: Early Impressions of the Women’s House Team

The battle of the teams will be 3-0 today when the Pitt Panthers take on the Duquesne Dukes at the Petersen Events Center. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the Pitt Women’s Team, you’re missing out. They play disciplined but exciting basketball that deserves more attention. In an effort to highlight this, I’ve compiled my early impressions of the starting lineup to introduce the key contributors.

Chance Lewis – Alumni Guard: Lewis will be the starting line-up as long as she stays healthy. Formerly Top 100 High School Player of the Year (No. 55 in 2017 per ESPN) and the Maryland Terrapins, it looked like they might be forced out of basketball due to multiple season-ending knee injuries. But her addition to the Panthers in early May allowed her teammate, Dashanette Harris, to slip into the non-guard position that opened things up for her and the team.

Lewis is a steady driving master guard, either looking to finish or create for others. She moves the ball in her own half of the field, often helping connect passes to open up her teammates. Lewis has good vision in transition, looking for players who are open or pass the ball forward so they can play for someone else.

At the half court, she’s been shooting three points through three games, connecting on 5 of 11 (45.5%) attempts so far. Defensively, Lewis has held up well at point offense. Her ability to move laterally will be tested in the ACC game, but she has plenty of time to prepare for it.

Dashanit Harris – Senior Goalkeeper: Harris is one of Pete’s. A three-level scorer who represents the Panthers’ only path in the starting line-up to create a real shot from dribbling, and he plays with strength 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 below 40, it will greatly help raise the team’s ceiling. On the plus side, Harris has seen her turnover per game decrease each season. While leadership isn’t something that can be measured, if you can pull it together in her senior year, it’s hard to imagine this team not getting more than two conference wins this season.

Malia Johnson – Junior Striker: There is probably no better player on the list than Johnson. She’s a statistician 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’s in the half court or in transition, Johnson extends the floor from the forward position while still helping out at the plates. While three-pointers account for approximately 62% of her total attempts, she can put the ball on the floor and reach the basket. Like Harris, it’s important that Johnson has a reasonable aptitude for this Panthers team to reach its potential.

Amber Brown – First Striker: Nobody hits the offensive glass quite like Brown. Against the Bryant Bulldogs, all three of her rebounds were on the offensive end; She is the only Pitt player to have more offensive than defensive boards.

Brown has a nose for the ball and has no problem mixing it up and down on return attempts. She also has a good counter game and can ground the ball with her right hand to hit the edge to try to finish. Much like Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun, Brown has a high court efficiency — 12-of-17 (70.6%) — as a player mostly looking to score five feet from the basket. Like all tigers, she seems willing to passers-by and can start breakfast.

Malak Leto – Junior Striker: The only player to average at least 10 rebounds per game (10.7), King clears the glass at both ends for a team that doesn’t have the higher bulk. She also leads teams in blocks with two per game and is the most reliable defender on the defensive line.

Like the Browns, King feeds off offensive boards and tackles. She can also get to the ledge on drives and also has a nice 15ft jump as well. King and Brown work well together in their high and low game and can play either role seamlessly. Although their skill sets overlap in many ways; They also complement each other.

Gabe Hutcherson – Junior Striker: Hutcherson, a former Ohio State Buckeye, started the first game of the year and was one of the first players off the bench in the last two contests. Her range extends from beyond the arc, and she can use dribbling to create space or to reach places on the ground from which she is comfortable shooting.

Like Brown and King, Hutcherson and Johnson share the connection, too. Unlike the previous pairing, the latter two deal damage to the perimeter like a two-player game. There’s certainly a way for Hutcherson to be in the starting lineup again, but she’s firmly cemented her role in the squad as a Katie Lou Samuelson-type player.

Before I get into my two favorite Pete-run combos, I want to quickly dive into how I think this spin is shaping up:

Big Forwards (5 and 4) – Always two: King, Brown, Hutcherson, Johnson

Front Flex / Bumper Guard (4 and 3) – At least one: Johnson, Xanor; Strickland, Malcolm

Off-Guard (2) – at least one: Harris, Hayford; Malcolm, Waschnitz

Chief Guard (1) – at least one: Lewis, Hayford, and Waschnitz

I don’t think Coach Lance White is going to go with 11 players once conference play starts. This is 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 tackle like Johnson and Xanor and/or a bigger guard like Strickland and Malcolm. Harris is unique and to a similar extent is Lewis; I think Hayford has done a good job as a backup.

Horns Stag Away Flex for King:

It begins with the Horns being looked over by two forwards, usually Brown and King. Johnson or Strickland would either use the far screens or just cut Iverson over the free throw line to catch a pass on the wing. The non-guard officer, always Harris, sets a flex, cross, or slits depending on how King’s defender positions himself as happens above who frees King to the left block, preferably on key with Harris’ defender. King ideally goes to work here.

The timing is off in the final sequence above, but Pitt can stream straight into a high entry to Brown who reaches to the basket to start a layup.

Get Flex Horns:

Sometimes it’s set to floppy screen (second sequence) and sometimes it’s more of a ghost screen (first sequence) as the timing needs the horns to stay on before the pass to the high post. Once the ball has been passed to the high post, the player who passed the ball immediately comes up and gets (gets action) a handover while the player receiving the pass rises above the three-point line. In either case, Strickland receives the pass again after being lifted. As one of the most explosive players on the team, this gives her plenty of room to work. A direct triple or pass to King is available after you break free from the cross screen.

We hope this gave you a reasonable overview of which players are currently recording the most minutes the team contributes and some of their offensive combinations. I planned to put a Road to Playtime section here to talk about Hayford, Exanor, Strickland, Malcolm, and Washenitz. But this should be another piece where I will include the team’s transfer philosophies as well as a breakdown of what they like to do defensively. If you liked this analysis in the women’s team, please let me know in the forums or at Twitter. I’m planning 4-6 of them throughout the season, but I’m willing to do more if there’s demand.

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