The season is less than 2 weeks away. ACC Media Day. Low expectations from without, higher from within. Time to catch up on some things. And I’m not even getting to recruiting in this post.
ACC Media Day was last week, and Pitt ended up as the preseason pick to finish 12th.
It wasn’t even close to being higher.
ACC Operation Basketball 2016-17 Preseason Poll
(First-place votes in parenthesis)
Team & Points
1. Duke (85) – 1359
2. North Carolina (6) – 1239
3. Virginia – 1125
4. Louisville – 1034
5. Syracuse – 905
6. NC State – 772
7. Notre Dame – 716
8. Florida State – 705
9. Miami – 650
10. Virginia Tech – 645
11. Clemson – 623
12. Pitt – 511
13. Wake Forest – 309
14. Georgia Tech – 199
15. Boston College – 128
Pitt would be more likely to be in the mix for 9th to 11th in the preseason if you didn’t stop and consider their conference schedule. It bears repeating how downright brutal it is this season. UNC, Virginia, Louisville and Syracuse as the home-and-home conference opponents. The teams picked 2-5 in the conference. It is entirely possible that Pitt could go as badly as 6-12 in the ACC and still be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
Pitt will have little margin for error when ACC play occurs. The talk of the ACC being as deep and being Big East-esque in getting a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has been happening since the beginning of October.
Mike Young was named to the 2d team All-ACC squad. The only other player to notch any preseason recognition has been Cam Johnson, in SI’s statistical analysis projecting him to be a 11th best breakout scorer this year.
Kevin Stallings is conceding that the ACC is going to be a special grind, but is trying not to be negative about it.
“The most daunting thing is that it’s probably the best league or has the potential to be the best league in history in college basketball, perhaps,” Stallings said when asked about the most daunting aspect of the conference. “That’s daunting. What’s daunting is I could have a really good team and play a really good game and get beat. That’s daunting. One of these guys isn’t going to be outcoached. You better figure out a way to outplay them because they’re not going to get outcoached. That’s daunting.
“It’s an exciting challenge, too, because we’re paid to win. We’re going to have to figure out how we can get that done. It’s an exciting challenge, but it’s intimidating at best and scary at worst is probably how I would describe it.”
Other coaches at ACC Media Day said nice things about Pitt and Head Coach Kevin Stallings.
And in recent years, Stallings built relationships with other coaches in the league, including Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams, who reminisced Wednesday with Stallings about a Chicago concert they saw together featuring Keith Urban, the Dixie Chicks and the Eagles. Buzz Williams even said Stallings played a mean air guitar when “Hotel California” came through the speakers.
But it’s not Stallings’ proficiency with imaginary instruments that has his colleagues’ attention. It’s his up-tempo offense.
“He’s one of the greatest minds in the game,” Roy Williams said. “We still do some of the things in the zone offense I got from Kevin, wow, 23 years ago.”
“That team they have now, I don’t care what the rankings say, is a top-20 team,” Pitino said of Pitt. “That’s a great team in the making, and they needed a veteran coach to take them where they want to go and they got him.”
Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has a special appreciation for Stallings as Brey took over the Irish around the same time Vanderbilt hired Stallings. And if you ask him, Stallings isn’t considered fresh meat in arguably the best conference in college basketball.
“It was a great hire for Pitt,” Brey said. “He’s really good, experienced and he’s coached in a great league. He only adds to coaching talent depth in this league.”
The thing about this team is that the scoring — mostly — isn’t in question. Both because of the players on-hand and the coach. It is whether they can play defense for sustained periods.
I’m not saying this team is going to be an unstoppable force offensively. As we have seen, teams that are overly reliant on making jump shots can be really bad offensively when the shots aren’t falling. What I am saying is that this team has the potential to be a lot better on the court than it is on paper.
There is no question the Panthers will struggle defensively, will not likely be a great rebounding team and will have issues matching up with bigger teams.
But because Stallings has been willing to be creative offensively to get his five best players on the floor together, and because the team does have so many good offensive players, the Panthers will have a chance to overcome those deficiencies on most nights.
This is going to be an unconventional team that plays in an unconventional way, and those teams are usually the toughest to pin down in the preseason.
And heck, if the ranking turns out to be true and this team doesn’t win a lot in the ACC, if nothing else, they should be really fun to watch.
I’m going to call bullshit on that last part right now. Style will mean nothing without the wins. Style is the side issue. The thing you complain about when you go looking for things that upset you. Or something of which you complain about in other programs. Fans care first, second, and third about winning.
Pitt can get in high-scoring basketball games and lose, and no one is going to come out of the Pete or turn off the game and think, “Golly, that was fun to watch. Shame someone had to lose.”
The fans will question the coaching, the players, the tactics. People will be pissed. So, don’t even try to make that claim.