Containing Patterson will be tough task for Devils
Posted January 27
Two weeks after the dismal “Operation Loss” weekend, there’s been a regional sports reversal of fortune.
On Saturday, there were basketball wins by Duke over Florida State and Wake Forest over Notre Dame, followed by N.C. State over Georgia Tech and UNC over Clemson on Sunday.
The Carolina Hurricanes initiated the roll on Thursday with an NHL win over Buffalo and came back Saturday with another over Ottawa.
It all adds up to a pleasant about-face from a weekend that began on Jan. 10 with the Hurricanes losing 3-0 at Columbus, an outcome that preceded basketball losses by Duke to Clemson, UNC to Syracuse, State to Virginia, Wake to Pitt, ECU to Old Dominion and N.C. Central to Florida A&M on Jan. 11.
The following day, the Carolina Panthers had their NFL season ended in Charlotte with a loss to San Francisco and then carrying over to Monday (Jan. 13) when the Canes were handed a 3-0 loss by Calgary.
But with Duke (16-4 overall, 5-2 ACC) at Pitt (18-2, 6-1) tonight (7 p.m., ESPN), putting a cherry atop this sundae will be more difficult than anything accomplished by all of the locals during the previous four days.
Patterson follows a pattern
While there has been more national attention on Duke freshman Jabari Parker and Syracuse senior C.J. Fair, the ACC’s best player thus far actually has been Pitt senior forward Lamar Patterson.
After averaging a modest 10.1 points per game last season on a 24-9 (12-6 Big East) team, the 6-5, 225-pounder from Lancaster (Pa.) hardly was projected to assume an imposing presence in the Panthers’ first ACC season.
Pitt was picked for 6th in the preseason media vote and Patterson finished well behind Fair, Parker, Duke’s Rodney Hood, Virginia’s Joe Harris and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant in the voting for preseason all-conference.
In the weeks since that vote, Grant has been ruled academically ineligible, Harris got off to a sluggish start and Parker had a couple of sub-par performances in early conference games against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
At least four other players – UNC’s James Michael McAdoo, State’s T.J. Warren, Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan and Maryland’s Dez Wells – began with higher expectations than Patterson. And that’s not even counting UNC’s P.J. Hairston, whose status was uncertain when the preseason all-stars votes were conducted.
But there’s been a surprise player who lifts his team to unexpected success in virtually every ACC season over the years.
Last season, it was Miami guard Shane Larkin. The year before, it was Carolina’s Tyler Zeller.
Frequent common denominators for these sort of sudden impact players are experience, an appreciation for a support roles and an ability to self-create on offense.
Patterson fits that M.O. to a tee – averaging almost 18 points on a team where Jamie Dixon has nine players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Patterson is averaging less than 31 minutes.
Slow and awkward at times early in his career, he’s suddenly emerged as an accurate wing shooter out of set offenses as well as in transition while maintaining enough body bulk to post-up taller defenders.
It’ll be interesting to see how Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decides to defend Patterson. Odds are, Hood (6-8, 215) will get the first call, but Parker (6-8, 235), Amile Jefferson (6-9, 210), Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4, 190) and Matt Jones (6-4, 200) may draw the assignment from time to time.
Duke’s chemistry has undergone positive change of late thanks to rebounding help from 7-foot sophomore Marshall Plumlee.
Pitt is not a huge team but has a lot length and bulk when Patterson, Tailb Zanna (6-9, 235), Michael Young (6-7, 240) and Durand Johnson (6-6, 210) are on the court at the same time. Plumlee could be important again, particularly if the Panthers can force a half-court tempo.
It’s very rare that Duke is an underdog in any game. The Panthers are favored by four – a direct reflection of how difficult Patterson has been to contain.
At Carolina, a new look
In UNC’s 80-61 win over Clemson, Tar Heel coach Roy Williams didn’t just tinker with his starting lineup by going with freshman Kennedy Meeks over sophomore Joel James in the post.
Williams also substantially increased on-court minutes for his starters. Off the bench, only Nate Britt and Brice Johnson were used for more than six minutes.
That’s a radical change from the loss at Virginia on Jan. 20, when Williams used nine players for six or more minutes.
Maybe it was just one game and maybe it was just because the opponent was Clemson in Chapel Hill (57 straight now), but the Heels looked a lot more fluid and comfortable with each other.
Meeks hasn’t played all that much for the season – an average of about 16 minutes per game – but it’s obvious he has a high, high performance ceiling.