Jamel Artis' biggest test as Pitt's point guard comes tonight as Panthers visit Louisville
January 11, 2017 12:00 AM
Jamel Artis’ skills as a point guard will be tested when Pitt faces Louisville’s full-court press tonight.
Pitt has lost eight consecutive games against Louisville entering tonight.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For all the fuss surrounding it in the preseason, the move of Jamel Artis from small forward to point guard has, at the very least, become an accepted reality two months into Pitt’s season.
It was an unconventional arrangement, but, in an era when the highest level of the sport features point guards as tall as 6 feet 11, it wasn’t as if putting a talented scorer and capable ballhandler at point guard, regardless of his height, couldn’t work.
Concerns, however, still existed, like how he would fare in certain situations against, for example, Louisville’s suffocating full-court press. It’s a challenge that, regardless of how well Artis did beforehand, would eventually present itself.
That day now has arrived.
In the middle of a standout senior season, Artis will be faced with one of his tallest obstacles of the season tonight against the Cardinals, one that will test many of the key skills of a position with which he’s still relatively inexperienced. Against an opponent the Panthers have struggled mightily with the past five years, his play might well be a defining factor. Kevin Stallings, the one who made the decision to put Artis at point guard, believes in what his 6-foot-7 senior can do.
“I think Jamel will be fine,” Pitt’s first-year coach said. “Jamel’s a good ballhandler. He knows how to use his body to protect the ball. He’s not a guy that gets sped up easily.”
Whether it was being forced out of their tempo of choice or not, Louisville became as elusive of a win as there was during former coach Jamie Dixon’s final handful of years at Pitt. The Panthers have lost eight consecutive games against the Cardinals, with the past four coming by an average of 12.5 points. In seven of those eight games, Pitt finished with more turnovers than it averaged for the season, including a combined 34 in two losses a year ago.
This season’s Louisville team, while not thriving on turnovers in quite the same way it did in previous years under coach Rick Pitino, is still capable when it comes to forcing miscues. The Cardinals, who are No. 1 in Division I in defensive efficiency, are 34th (of 351 teams) and third in the ACC in turnover percentage defense, collecting one on 21.9 percent of opponents’ possessions. Guard Donovan Mitchell has epitomized that trend, forcing steals on 4.2 percent of opponents’ possessions while he’s on the court, the 36th-best mark in Division I.
Louisville’s press, according to Pitino, hasn’t had a consistent, one-size-fits-all experience against taller, non-traditional point guards over his 16-year tenure at the school. Against the Panthers, whose five starters are all 6-6 or taller, the press’ effect might be marginalized by a taller opponent who can simply pass over them.
“We have success from time to time, depending on what type of guards the other team has,” Pitino said. “They’ll be ready for it. They’re a very well-coached team. They’ll have five guys help against the press.”
For the Cardinals’ press to work to its full effectiveness, and to be set in the first place, they have to make shots, something that hasn’t always been easy for them this season. Through 16 games, they’re making 43.3 percent of their shots, the 224th-best clip in Division I.
On the season, Artis is averaging a team-worst 2.7 turnovers per game, but much of that has to do with how many minutes he plays and how often the ball is in his hands. His turnover rate, for instance, is the third-best among Pitt’s top six players. Though they came at a different position, Artis has had 13 turnovers in four career games against Louisville, nine last season.
Though he has been impressed with Artis’ poise and overall skill set at the point — things that should serve him well against the Cardinals — there are some inherent woes that still give Stallings pause.
“Jamel’s problems come from being too casual,” he said. “His problems don’t come from being overwhelmed athletically or being bothered by a tough defender on the other team. Jamel’s problems usually just come from when he loses concentration and focus. I have confidence Jamel will take care of the ball just fine and get us into offense and be the good player that he is.”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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