Pitt's frontcourt deficiencies exact a heavy toll, open a door for Ryan Luther
January 30, 2016 12:00 AM
Ryan Luther provides more defensive work for Pitt's frontcourt, which has helped him receive more playing time recently.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The wheels of Pitt’s frontcourt continue to spin as coach Jamie Dixon continues his hunt for the right mix of players to combat the Panthers’ lack of size at center.
That’s why there have been some games when Alonzo Nelson-Ododa has played or contributed the most and others when it has been starter Rafael Maia.
Recently, however, it has been sophomore Ryan Luther’s time to shine as he has put together three good games in a row while displaying a completely different skill set than the other two.
Luther, from Hampton High School, has the ability to step out and hit some jump shots and become another weapon against zone defenses. The other two can’t do that.
Dixon said Luther’s progression has been what he would expect from a sophomore who still is learning, and Dixon has been extremely pleased with Luther’s defensive improvement.
He said that the more Luther improves defensively, the more playing time he gets. In recent weeks, Dixon added, Luther’s defensive work has dictated more playing time.
“I’ve said all along, Ryan is a little better offensively than the other two, Rafael is the best rebounder, and Alonzo we’ve felt was post defense, interior defense was better,” Dixon said. “Ryan has improved on the defensive end, he was pretty good on the help side as a defender but not as good as a post defender but he’s done a better job [there].
“So I think he is progressing as you might hope for a sophomore that we anticipated redshirting last year. He has obviously played well, he has earned his minutes, and we made that very clear to the team.
“He does give us something at that spot as far as the ability to make shots, he finishes pretty well around the basket and he makes free throws, too, so he is a guy I think if he can keep getting better defensively he will be a real asset to us.”
Luther’s numbers haven’t been overwhelming, but he certainly has made his presence felt with plays or shots at key times, and that’s exactly what the Panthers need from that spot.
Maia, the starter, has struggled against the bigger, more athletic centers in the ACC but has been able to provide rebounding and a bit of physical presence.
Nelson-Ododa is the most athletic of the three and does some things really well on the defensive end, but his offense has been non-existent and he seems to have lost some confidence in his ability around the basket.
Such developments left the door open for Luther.
He played 10 minutes and had 3 points, 2 rebounds in a loss against N.C. State. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they enabled him to play the most of the three centers.
Then, against Florida State a week ago, he played 15 minutes and had 2 points, 4 rebounds. He also made a key play, collecting an offensive rebound and making the pass to Jamel Artis for the 3-pointer that put the Panthers ahead for good.
In the loss Wednesday night at Clemson, Luther played 19 minutes and scored eight first-half points, all on jump shots around the perimeter. His offense offset the lack of scoring from the Panthers’ top offensive players other than Mike Young.
He said that he is happy to get more playing time, but his main goal is to continue to make defensive improvements that can help the team win more games.
“I just try to be aggressive on the defensive end,” Luther said. “I never try to force anything on offense, but at the end of the day we aren’t going to lose because of offense.
“Right now, I just go out there and try to help them team win, I am not trying to make a case [for more playing time], it isn’t about that, it is about playing good defense and trying to help the team win.”
Dixon said that the trio of Luther, Maia and Nelson-Ododa provides him with the ability to mix and match lineups based on the opponent. Against some teams, however, that hasn’t worked.
He said the Panthers have not been good enough defensively this year — and especially while losing three of their past five games — and it starts with their inability to defend in the post.
That’s why he believes it is an open competition with the first one stepping up on defense getting the bulk of the playing time.
“No, we are not getting enough out of [the center spot],” Dixon said. “That is part of our defensive deficiency, we are not where we need to be.
“We are working to get better, we are making the best of it, we know what they bring, we’ve played with what we have and what’s available — we just have to get better defense out of them, but it is not just them, it is across the board.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.
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