Reporting Colin Dunlap
This is on you, Steven Adams.
It’s time to show up or Pitt isn’t going anywhere in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Is that a lot to put on one kid in a 10-man rotation?
But from this vantage, it’s perfectly fair when the program and fan base propagated to the masses Adams was supposed to be the player who was going to lift the Pitt program — from Day 1 that he put on that Pitt jersey — to bigger and better things.
When Adams, the 7-foot post player, was lured from New Zealand to Oakland by Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, he was billed as a program-changer, a potential one-and-done talent, a competitor who could dominate games on either end of the floor with regularity.
While there have been flashes of brilliance, quick explosions of virtuosity for the 24-8 Panthers that Adams has shown, he has far from been that steadying force.
The season, to this point, has yielded a 7.0 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game average for Adams and it seems for every ebb game, he’s had two flow games. That much is evidenced by this: Adams sparkled in a win at Cincinnati with 13 points, but looked less-than-stellar in huge games of consequence against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament (6 points, 7 rebounds) and Marquette (4 points, 5 rebounds) in the regular season.
Now it’s time to show up, Steven Adams.
Everyone will quickly forget about how you largely didn’t live up to the hype in the first 32 games of your career at Pitt if you turn up big in this big dance.
That’s how it works, fairly or unfairly — icons are made in March.
And, remember, that’s what you were billed as — a program-changer, a big-time talent who would lift Pitt to new heights.
Adams gets his first chance in a Thursday matinee against No. 9 seed Wichita State (26-8), when the eighth-seeded Panthers take on the Shockers in Salt Lake City. Wichita State has been employing a three-guard system and are more than willing to try to play a grit, tough, grind-it-out game that Pitt also plays and Adams will most likely be matched up against another 7-footer, senior Ehimen Orukpe. While the Nigerian Orukpe hasn’t anywhere near the pedigree of Adams and his movements not as fluid as Pitt’s freshman center, it’s imperative for Adams to stay away from foul trouble and dominate a big man that he, in truth, should dominate.
Again, it’s time for Steven Adams to show up big.
Logic says Pitt should get past Wichita State and move onto the No. 1 seed in the West Region, Gonzaga, which enters the tournament at 31-2 with losses to only Illinois and Butler.
Gonzaga, undeniably, will be a tougher task — not just for Adams, but for Pitt as a whole.
This is where it can get tricky for Adams.
If Pitt is to advance and take on Gonzaga, Adams would be saddled, most likely, with the task of going head-up for stretches against Kelly Olynyk, another 7-footer. Olynyk, a Canadian, is averaging 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and is shooting 66.8 percent from the floor.
Asking Adams to win a battle against Olynyk might be a bit of a big ask, too much of a stretch. But, asking Adams to hold his own against Olynyk shouldn’t be out of the question — after all, with the ballyhoo and commotion surrounding Adams when he entered the program, a game like the Gonzaga game was exactly the type of contest he was supposed to help Pitt have a much greater probability of winning, right?
It says here there are a lot of factors that will influence how deep Pitt will go in this NCAA Tournament.
It also says here none will be bigger than Pitt’s biggest guy.
This is on you, Steven Adams.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com.