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lair – In the film room: Pitt WBB’s ideal starting lineup

January 17th, 2023

The Pittsburgh Panthers women’s basketball team (7-10, 0-6) has not quite found its footing in ACC play. Perhaps that is the product of trying eight different starting lineups over 16 games. It is hard to build continuity that way. But after a near upset on the road against the Louisville Cardinals – a team picked to finish first in the conference – followed by a tough loss to Clemson at home, the Panthers may finally be settling into their most optimal starting five.

Pitt junior forward Liatu King (Pitt Athletics)

Forward – Junior, Liatu King: Pitt tends to go based on how King is going. When not in foul trouble, she is the Panthers leading scorer (11.4 ppg) and rebounder (8.8 rpg).

King is at her best around the basket and demonstrates the most poise, polish and balance when looking to finish around the basket (first sequence). But she does a lot of her damage out of a high-low setup with Amber Brown and is a threat to score or pass (second sequence) when she has the ball in her hands. While not a three-point threat – she has never attempted a triple in three years at Pitt – King has a reliable jumper out to around 15 feet (third sequence). She crashes the glass on both ends (final sequence) and has recorded 37 more defensive rebounds and 23 more offensive rebounds than any other Panther.

Forward – Senior, Amber Brown: The only constant in the starting lineup, not only this season but also throughout Brown’s four-year career. Do not let her 6’0” stature trick you into thinking she has a perimeter-oriented game.

Yes, Brown is the best slasher on the team: she’s capable of driving the ball from beyond the arc all the way to the rim (first & second sequence). But she also has no issues mixing it up down low. Like King, Brown is not a threat from three-point distance. Observe her in the final sequence above and you will see a player that is comfortable directly traffic and making a high-post entry pass to King that ultimately helps connect to a wide-open corner triple by Aislin Malcolm that only happens because of how the defense collapses on King.

Forward – Sophomore, Maliyah Johnson: Not just the team leader in makes from beyond the arc (23), Johnson is also Pitt’s most natural wing scorer and likely one of the Panthers’ best two athletes.

She can score at all three levels and equally effective in the half court and in transition. The Panthers are scoring more this season and one of the big reasons why is the improvement of Johnson. And as I mentioned, she is one of the best athletes on the team and that is evident with her catch and finish in the final sequence.

Guard – Freshman, Ace Strickland: It seemed like it was just a matter of time before Strickland forced herself into the starting rotation. Along with Johnson, she is one of the best two athletes on the team. The combination makes a nice pairing on the wing.

Strickland is the most dependable defender, both on-ball and off-ball, on the perimeter. But she has recently started to find her outside stroke on the offensive end. Strickland has splashed at least one three-pointer in three out of the last four games and shot 6-19 (31.5%) in the games against Miami, Syracuse and Louisville that led into Saturday’s loss to Clemson. Her calling card has been her defense, per the final sequence. Strickland navigates screens well, rotates with purpose, can stay in front of most guards, and effectively applies her length.

Guard – Freshman, Marley Washenitz: Pitt is just a better team with Marley on the floor. Despite playing just the seventh-most minutes per game on the team, Washenitz leads the team in assists.

She has more game off-the-bounce than just about any other Panther, but the ball does not stick in Marley’s hands. Washenitz shows an advanced feel in pick-and-roll situations (first and second sequences) and helps create easy shot opportunities for her teammates. She has also been outstanding as a defender at the top of Pitt’s 2-3 zone, per the final sequence. Marley must try to stay out of foul trouble and limit turnovers, but she is the starting point guard the Panthers need moving forward.

So Why This Lineup?

I love this set. It sends Johnson on an Iverson cut, the team’s best scorer in isolation. Then Strickland sets a flex screen – one of the most active players on either end – for King to have a mid-post catch with any empty corner. As the best interior scorer this is an ideal situation for her. Strickland even curls around some off-ball screens for a chance at an open triple should King need to kick the ball back out.

As I mentioned above, Washenitz has been excellent at the top of the 2-3 zone. But the entire defense is connected here, and this is the most athletic lineup Pitt can put out there, sans Gabby Hutcherson anchoring the back. Their recent move to a zone defense almost exclusively has helped mask the fact that they are not a big team (and it helps keep King out of foul trouble).

Head coach Lance White has something here in this starting lineup. As far as the rotation, it allows Hutcherson to sub in for Brown or King, Dayshanette Harris to wreak havoc off the bench, Aislin Malcolm to provide offense off the bench, and Emy Hayford to help provide stability at the point along with Channise Lewis, when available. Will he stick with this the rest of the way to create continuity and maximize the individual abilities of his roster? That will remain to be seen.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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