Something has significantly affected the quality of play for Abdul Malik-Abu. This kid was a four star recruit back in 2014. He is now in his fourth year of ACC play. Of all the returning players last season, the one most people expected to have a breakthrough season was Abu. It simply hasn't happened. In fact, he experienced a disappointing junior season in 2016-17 and this year's play is even worse.

In the Pitt game, he looked totally lost on the court. In the critical stretch in the first half when the Pack squandered a large lead Pitt shifted to a zone defense and we stopped scoring. During this time, Abu was put at the free throw line, same as Omer Yertseven was instructed to do in a previous game where the Pack finally showed the ability to score against a zone defense, through a combination of give and go's, plus Yert htting an open shot from the foul line if the defense chose not to collapse on him.

Abu did something entirely different and wrong! He repeatedly stepped out of the key and tried to set a pick on a stationary zone defender at either side of the key. This was not the play that Keatts wanted. Once he tried the same kind of open shot from the foul line and he missed. He never attempted another, and repeatedly put himself out of position to even receive the entry pass to force the Pitt zone to either collapse on him, that would have allowed him to hit a cutter to the basket, or put up his own shot if the zone played off him. By trying to set a totally ineffective pick on a defender who was not in man-on-man defense, he effectively forced the Pack to play four on five on offense!

It did not take long for Keatts to take Abu out of the game and put Lennard Freeman in. At that point, with Yertseven with two fouls on him, the Pack offense finally came back to life and Pitt went back to the man-on-man defense, but the gap created remained in place until the last six minutes of the second half. Freeman doesn't have the offensive game that Yertseven has. The mind-numbing part of this is that in the past Abu showed he could hit a mid-range jump shot. So, I don't get it. He took one shot in the first half and missed, and never attempted another effort!

He only plays limited minutes, but those minutes could be critical if we could see what we saw from him in his freshman season. Moreover, if he played the proper way, I am sure that Keatts would hand him more minutes. He played 11 minutes in the Pitt game because Keatts really needed Abu to step up and allow him to keep Yert on the bench with the two early fouls. Yert was put back into the game with about five minutes remaining in the first half, and the Pack whittled the Pitt lead down before the buzzer, and thankfully Yert avoided getting a third foul in the first half! Abu's game as a freshman was strikingly similar to the game that Yert has crafted for himself. Yert has gotten a lot better and Abu has gotten a lot worse.

Abu ended up with six points including two free throws. He added three rebounds. Compared to recent games, this is a statistical improvement for him! The first field goal for him was early in the second half when Yert took an inlet pass, pivoted to the basket, and hit a wide open Abu under the goal for an uncontested dunk! It was Yert who drew all the defenders to him! His second and last field goal came a few minutes later when Markell Johnson rebounded a Pitt miss, and hit him a dime under the basket on a fast break. When he got the pass, Abu was unguarded, and yet vice a strong dunk, he went up weakly and got rejected by a Pitt defender to ran after him. He collected the ball back and went up for a reverse layup to score.

At the 17:38 point of the second half, there was one series that really laid it out so bare! Abu slow jogged from the Pitt end of the court to the Pack's end of the court while NC State was on another break. Abu got the rebound off the Pitt miss and you could hear Keatts yelling at him to get back to the offense. At the time of the rebound both Braxton Beverly and Yertseven were in the paint within a few feet of Abu. Abu made the outlet pass to Johnson, and you then saw the camera pan to the Pack's offensive side of the court. Beverly, Yertseven, and Johnson were all in the camera's pan. It literally took three passes on the perimeter from Johnson to Beverly to Yertseven to Torin Dorn under the basket before Abu appeared on camera! Dorn's shot was blocked because there were three Pitt bigs in the paint. Abu finally made a run to the basket for an out of control rebound attempt, which fortunately resulted in a foul called on a Pitt player. A winded Abu gave a brief hug at the free throw line and sank both free throw attempts to conclude his scoring for the entire game -- all within the opening 2.5 minutes of the second half! He also netted all three of his rebound by that same point. He was a non-factor the rest of the game!

It was during this stretch, that the ACC Network color commentator called Abu out as "someone the Pack needs to step up."

I don't think it can all be attributed to a knee injury early in this season. But, I don't have a definitive answer either. I would certainly like to get one!

Ken