This article is tough for me to write because I would really be whining talking about the Pitt Basketball team. Only Duke and Kansas has had a better win percentage than Pitt in the last decade. The school is consistently a 20-win team, with 10 wins in the rugged Big East. The Panthers have won 3 Big East regular season titles under Jamie Dixon. The Panthers have gone to 11 straight NCAA Tournaments (2 with Ben Howland). They have done all of this based in Western Pennsylvania, not exactly the hotbed of basketball recruiting. In fact, before DeJuan Blair (RIP Schenley HS), the best Western Pennsylvania product recruited to Pitt was Sean Miller, who graduated in 1992. I am very proud of what Pitt Basketball has become as a basketball power, and yet…
I can’t call Pitt a basketball powerhouse because we have never, NEVER, been to the Final Four. Not even accidentally. The closest the Panthers have gotten is our only Elite Eight appearance in 2009, when Scottie Reynolds and Villanova ran a cross-court play in 5.5 seconds to eliminate Pitt from the Tournament (Pitt was a 1 seed too). That is still our only Elite Eight appearance. 11 straight Tournament appearances. I can’t do math, but that isn’t a good ratio.
Pitt is terrible in tournaments. The Panthers have only won 2 Big East Tournaments since 2002. Jamie Dixon only has one of them. Pitt has 3 Big East titles, with only one B.E. Tournament title in 4 appearances in the championship game under Dixon. The NCAA Tournament is even more heartbreaking. In 11 straight appearances, Pitt has been a top 4 seed 8 times. One Elite 8 appearance, 0 Final Fours. In fact, they have only made the Sweet 16 5 times in that period. Pitt Basketball is cursed, as proved by the bizarre ending to the tournament last year, with a foul in the last seconds that was 84 feet away from the basket. Pitt lost 71-70; the third straight year Pitt has lost by 3 or less in the tournament. Will Pitt ever get that 3 points in a tournament to put them over the top?
You can say that coaching is the problem. While Jamie Dixon has one of the best resumes for his work at Pitt thus far, people still have a problem with his philosophy especially on pick-and-roll defense (see pic to the right as an example). You can blame the recruits Pitt gets; there really hasn’t been anyone that could make a play with the ball in his hands. You could say Carl Krauser was our best player with the ball in his hands but see a first round Tournament game vs Pacific (yes Pacific) to see why we don’t want to relive those Krauser days. Those playmakers are usually one-and-done types and Pitt never, ever, recruits those guys. Pitt has one of the best pure shooters in the country in Ashton Gibbs. But as the Big East Tournament last year proved, where UCONN refused to let Gibbs spot up and shoot clean looks. As Kemba Walker proved last year, if you have a player that could create his own shot, you can go as far as he is willing to take you in the NCAA Tournament and who knows if Gibbs can do that this year.
However, all is not doom and gloom for Pitt. They may not be able to get Western PA talent because there is none, but they do get bruisers. Pitt has a fierce recruit named Khem Birch who is compared to Kenyon Martin. He replaces Gary McGhee (see picture above and to the right) who was as athletic as a parked Ashton Martin. So Pitt is going to keep on rebounding and beating up opponents in the paint. Brad Wanamaker is gone to Italy but Travon Woodall is a suitable replacement. Nasir Robinson will be motivated to prove he isn’t brain-dead. And Gibbs will shoot the lights out again.
But as with all Pitt sports, will it be enough? Will Pitt ever be able to create the magic and moxie that is needed to make a run at the Final 4? You saw VCU last year; sometimes its more than just what the players can do and how they execute, there has to be a belief around the team that nobody can get in the way of their run. After 11 straight tournaments, including last year’s disaster, can Pitt create that magic within themselves? Or will the pressure to prove that they are an upper echelon basketball program stymie them again like it has the last 2 tournaments?
Pitt basketball is not Duke, UNC, or Kansas. Pitt football is not Ohio State, Penn State, or Michigan. The Great Mystery of Pitt Athletics probably has nothing to do with what the teams do. The football team is remodeling and the basketball team is searching for the next level. The mystery has to do with us the fans, with our expectations. We need to just enjoy this golden era of Pitt Athletics and hold on to the hope for the day that all of our squads (the volleyball and swim teams were pretty good when I was there) are at the upper echelon of their sports. Everything is alright Pitt fans, that day is coming soon. After the video, the games of the weekend. How about taking your lady to church on Sunday and staying for potluck? This may be the Sunday to do it.
Saturday, October 22
12-3pm: Oklahoma State vs Missouri (FX), North Carolina vs Clemson (ESPN), Kansas State vs Kansas (check local TV)
3:30-7pm: Auburn vs LSU (CBS), Georgia Tech vs Miami (ESPN), Maryland vs Florida State (ABC or ESPN2)
8pm-11pm: Washington vs Stanford (ABC), Wisconsin vs Michigan State (ESPN), Game 3 World Series (FOX)
Sunday, October 23
1-4pm: San Diego vs New York Jets, Atlanta vs Detroit, Denver vs Miami
4-7pm: Kansas City vs Oakland, Green Bay vs Minnesota, Pittsburgh vs Arizona