What can Brown do for you? Flip a coin
MILWAUKEE – Will the real Gilbert Brown please stand up?
Or will he fall flat on his face?
The wildly inconsistent Pittsburgh forward’s offense could be a key factor for the third-seeded Panthers when they face No. 6 Xavier in an NCAA tournament West Regional second-round game Sunday at the Bradley Center.
Trying to predict which Brown will show has been a conundrum for Panthers coach Jamie Dixon. A skilled defender and tough rebounder, the 6-foot-6 junior from Harrisburg, Pa., has been more of a question mark than an X-factor with the ball in his hands.
He has led his team in scoring five games, but has been shut out three times. He has struck for 20 or more points on three occasions, but averages just 10.6 points per game.
His modus operandi is to follow a flash of brilliance with a belly flop.
Even Brown admits you can’t ignore the numbers.
“It plays in my mind a little bit,” he said. “If you look at the statistics, one game is big and another is not so big scoring-wise. But I think the main focus is the effort and the consistency of playing hard. My main objective is to go out there and give my team 100 percent and contribute. At the end of the day that is the big picture and what we’re all focused on.”
After a series of injuries and some off-court angst, Brown is at full attention.
He got hurt as a freshman in 2007 and had to redshirt. In year two, he started 15 games and seemed poised to break out. But a stress fracture to his left foot last season cost him four games and stunted his progress.
Still, with Pitt losing Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs from the 2009 Elite Eight squad, it was assumed Brown would seize a starting role and provide scoring punch. Instead, he was suspended before the season began for failing to meet academic requirements.
Yet another puzzling point: Just months earlier he had won the team’s academic excellence award.
Brown missed the Panthers’ first 11 games while he got himself untracked in the classroom.
“Sitting out was really tough,” he said. “To sit out, and have to watch, and not be able to practice and be next to my teammates during game situations. … It really drove me to come back and be prepared and be on top of my game when I could contribute.
“I learned a lot from it. I made the best out of a bad situation. I think I turned it into a positive.”
Trying to predict his point total remains positively maddening. His offensive chart should be measured by a seismograph.
There was a 25-point outburst against South Florida at the end of January, immediately followed by zero-point night against West Virginia.
Then came a 23-point outing against Seton Hall, chased by just six points vs. Robert Morris.
In an opening-round NCAA win against Oakland on Friday, the good Gilbert surfaced. He scored a team-high 17 points and had three rebounds in 19 minutes. He was one of six Panthers scoring in double figures. That kind of combined effort could be necessary to offset the production of Xavier star guard Jordan Crawford on Sunday. Crawford’s 28 points and huge second half sent Minnesota packing Friday.
Dixon, who has built one of the country’s most consistent programs on defense, said it would be a mistake to measure Brown solely by his scoring output.
“Some games people just look at the scoring and that’s not always the best indicator of how a guy is helping a team or how productive he is,” the coach said. “But he’s done a better job as the year’s gone on rebounding and defending for us and getting back into game shape.
“It’s been a process and he’s improved. The more he’s out there the better he gets.”
The Panthers’ leading scorer, Ashton Gibbs, averages just 15.6 points. Brad Wannamaker (12.2) and Jermaine Dixon (11) are the only other starters who regularly score in the teens.
Though Dixon won’t admit it, Brown has to have a big day against the Musketeers or Pitt could be in trouble.
Odds are his offensive production could be the deciding factor.