The game of college basketball doesn’t rely solely on the play of seniors anymore. Look no further than April’s National Championship game between Michigan and Louisville.
Ten players started in that game — five on each side. Of those players, Peyton Siva was the only senior to take the floor for the game’s opening tip.
Pitt basketball’s fate in 2013-2014 could be decided by a pair of fifth-year seniors, though. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna are the only seniors on the team, and their roles could be the most vital.
Recent history shows that the primary concern for each player in approaching this season should undoubtedly be receiving consistent production from these two players — a dynamic that was reflected in Pitt’s 84-52 win against Howard on Sunday.
Zanna led the team in scoring last season at the start of Big East play. He then all but disappeared during conference play, as his scoring average plummeted into single digits by the end of the season.
And there he was on Sunday evening at the Petersen Events Center against Howard, struggling against the Bison’s size at the center position. That was head coach Kevin Nickelberry’s plan from the start.
“We had to just battle him,” Nickelberry said. “We just wanted to use our two-headed monster and try to get him in foul trouble.”
The two-headed monster was 6-foot-9 Oliver Ellison and 6-foot-10 Marcel Boyd. While Zanna played just six minutes in the first half, he scored only four points on three shot attempts and recorded four rebounds overall.
The strategy made sense at the time, but the ultimate impact on the game’s result ranged from little to none. Nickelberry later called the plan a “bad scout.”
After the 6-foot-9 center from Nigeria posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds in his first game against Fresno State, Nickelberry wanted to put the onus on Pitt’s guards.
“Bigs can’t beat us tonight,” Nickelberry told his team. “The guards have to beat us. And their guards killed us.”
The effort on the perimeter was led by Patterson, who scored 16 points in the first half alone while the Panthers turned in a school-record 81 percent rate from the field in the half.
“Last game, we just couldn’t find the touch,” Patterson said. “Today, we found it. That’s just how it is — some games it goes in, some games it doesn’t.”
That’s an understatement. Patterson made his first four 3-point attempts and helped the Panthers carry a 24-point lead into halftime, which allowed them to coast to a 84-52 victory.
Patterson finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, pulled in five rebounds and dished out four assists.
Patterson now leads the Panthers in both scoring and passing at 12.7 points and six assists per game. He also pulls in five rebounds per game, reflecting his capabilities as a true triple-threat.
But questions of consistency also surround the extent to which Patterson can lead Pitt on a game-by-game basis. Take, for instance, his 22 points against Marquette on Jan. 12 last season, which were followed by only five points in the next contest at Villanova on Jan. 16.
Patterson is a patient player, but his decision-making can be maddening at times, especially when he passes up open looks on the perimeter in order to penetrate or continue moving the basketball. It’s even more maddening when one hears the way his teammates discuss his scoring prowess.
“Lamar Patterson can score the ball,” backcourt-mate Cameron Wright said. “I see it every day.”
Not to say it’s expected Patterson can throw up a 20-5-4 line every single time he plays, but does he think he can be the all-around threat he’s shown he can be on a consistent basis?
“Yeah, I’m a versatile player,” Patterson said. “I like to show different aspects of my game every time out.”