Pittsburgh Panthers' Savior: Ashton Gibbs Is the Shooter Pitt Has Always Needed

Tim MorelandContributor IIJanuary 30, 2011

Ashton Gibbs launches for 3
Ashton Gibbs launches for 3Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Maryland had Juan Dixon. 

Florida had Lee Humphrey. 

Connecticut had Ben Gordon. 

All three of these guys had a high success rate from beyond the arc and shot a ton of three-pointers.  They were also key contributors to NCAA Champions. 

Throughout their decade of dominance, the Pittsburgh Panthers have never possessed a long-range threat in the league of Dixon, Humphrey or Gordon. 

They have also failed to advance past the Elite Eight. 

There just may be a connection.

While Pitt has lacked an elite three-point shooter, this is not to say they have been completely devoid of skilled deep shooters.  Donatas Zavackas, Ronald Ramon and Antonio Graves were all capable of knocking down threes, but their attempts were limited. 

If one of them ended up open in the corner, he got to shoot a three.  If the game was on the line and Pitt needed a three to win or tie, one of these three was likely to take the shot. Nonetheless, the coach did not run many plays where shooting from beyond the arc was Plan A.

While this was true throughout the 2000s, this season, Ashton Gibbs has changed the formula. 

He is currently shooting nearly seven three-pointers per game, a slightly higher rate than Dixon, Humphrey or Gordon and a significantly higher rate than Ramon. 

Sometimes, when players decide to take more three-point attempts, the quality of their shot selection diminishes.  This leads to a lower success rate.  Even though Gibbs is taking an extra three-point shot per game, his 3PT% has risen from 39 percent to 44.5 percent this season.

Thanks to his increased 3PT%, Gibbs has essentially maintained his 15.5 points per game average from last season, while taking fewer total shots.  This frees up more possessions for Pitt's other players to score. 

Fortunately for Gibbs, and Pitt, the supporting cast of Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown have been extremely efficient themselves, both within and beyond the arc.  The threat of all three guys making a three has helped take pressure off Gibbs.

Saturday's game at Rutgers was a perfect example of what Ashton Gibbs could mean to the Pittsburgh Panthers in March. 

He shot 4-9 (44 percent) from three-point range, with one of those three-pointers effectively putting the game out of reach with less than a minute to go. 

It is one thing to have a guy who can hit the occasional three or shoot a buzzer-beater from beyond the arc.  But Ashton Gibbs is a guy that hits threes with the success and frequency that other guys shoot twos.  This provides a significantly larger advantage. 

After all, three is better than two.