That has to be the question being asked around the Pitt basketball program at the moment. By the players. By coaches. Support staff. The Athletic Direc– Never mind on the last one.
I don’t want to say the Louisville game was rock bottom, because it is amazing how teams when they are in a spiral can find heretofore unknown depths to plum. I am cautiously optimistic, though, that the last game was about as low as can go in terms of score differential.
It’s the little things.
I’m going to permit myself one little bit of grim, personal amusement by posting a bit from Paul Zeise’s column just before the Louisville game. A wonderful bit of careful backtracking from his post-Virginia column. And then this.
I don’t expect Stallings to get this team to the NCAA tournament, but I also don’t think it would reflect well on him if this team completely goes into the tank and finishes under .500.
This roster probably isn’t good enough to realistically finish in the top half of the ACC. But that doesn’t mean the Panthers can’t play better than they have, and that is on Stallings. He needs to fight tooth and nail to keep this team from tanking. There are some winnable games coming up and some games the Panthers could steal if they put together a complete effort similar to the nights they upset Virginia and blew out Maryland.
The Louisville game is a great opportunity for the Panthers to steal a win. They lost to the Cardinals, 85-80, a few weeks ago on the road, but since then Louisville has lost Quentin Snider to a hip injury, and they haven’t been nearly the same team without him.
Pitt is at home and is rested after a week off, and the Cardinals are undermanned, so there is no reason the Panthers shouldn’t be able to go out and win this game. And it would be the kind of win that could really give the Panthers some confidence and momentum and perhaps even spark a winning streak.
So much for that.
After the game — in which Kevin Stallings was ejected about 6 minutes into the second half — Stallings remained open and blunt about things.
“That’s about as disappointing of a performance as I could possibly imagine. There are a lot of things I could say and a lot of things I would like to say, but suffice to say, it’s embarrassing, it’s unacceptable. It’s my responsibility to have them prepared to play better than that, harder than that, smarter than that. We weren’t. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility. I don’t know what short-term alternatives I have available to me. It doesn’t feel like many, honestly. From a long-term standpoint, there will be some options and we’ll get some things rectified. I think one thing this team has consistently shown is an inability to deal with adversity. Honestly, since Ryan [Luther] went down with the injury, since Mike [Young] has been less than what he was earlier in the season, there almost seems to be a feeling of … I don’t know what adjective I want to use to describe it … amongst the players. I frankly don’t understand that. I don’t understand how you don’t dig in and compete harder. We’ll just keep trying to find answers. Not having Ryan Luther shouldn’t cause this much of a drop-off. He’s an important player to us for sure, but I feel like there is some fragmentation in the locker room, unfortunately. I don’t feel any of it is toward the coaching staff, honestly. You get taught tough lessons if you’re not prepared to do the best you can do every time you take on a challenge. We’ll keep working to find answers and certainly play better than we did tonight.” – Kevin Stallings
“In a roundabout way, yes. I’m not going to sit here and air what I observe and what I see, but it’s not the way it should be and it’s not being taken in a good direction. I’m limited in options, where I turn around and if there’s somebody not playing hard defensively, which was pervasive the entire evening, you can put somebody in. I pretty much had my five best defenders starting the game. That’s a bad sign, when the other team shoots 71 percent against you in the first half. It’s a bad sign when you go to the bench, you get worse defensively.” – Stallings on whether the fragmentation he referenced is about sects developing on the team
I think most of us understand that the starters are the best players on the team. But given their lack of effort, you almost have to go with the players on the bench who are definitely not better — but may actually look like they are trying.
There’s also the subtle (well, maybe not so subtle) claims that the cupboard is bare.
I would love to know what happened to Justice Kithcart and Damon Wilson. Kithcart has lost all aggressiveness and energy he flashed at the beginning of the season. Wilson’s development hasn’t happened — though, Wilson did get 7 points and attacked the basket multiple times. Both were high-3/low-4 star guards. Guys that definitely attacked the rim and led their teams. Neither one has much in the way of confidence in their shot any longer.
There was a point in the first half where Kithcart and Wilson were on the court together — which was strange enough. Both were spaced a little apart at the top of the 3-point line. Their defenders completely backed off them to prevent penetration, but allowing them wide-open looks. They literally passed the ball back and forth to one another. As if begging the other to take the uncontested 3.
Ultimately, neither was willing and they eventually got the ball to Artis for a completely contested miss.
Stallings, obviously denied it, but the way the starters came out and just did not seem to care. The way they played but very clearly didn’t compete. It is hard not to say that the team just quit on Stallings in that game. They heard the criticism made public. They saw themselves being fingered as the problem. Their effort being questioned. And whether, as Stallings said, this stuff is nothing they don’t already hear from him in practice. It is different when the coach tells everyone else.
And they just didn’t care. That’s the concern for Stallings. He doesn’t have their respect or fear. The players didn’t go out and play like they wanted to earn praise from him. They didn’t go out to prove him wrong and show him. They just didn’t care what he thought and did what they wanted.
And got totally destroyed by a better team. A better coached team. A team that gave a shit.
That is why I don’t know for sure if this game was rock bottom.
The one thing Stallings said that does appear to be very true. This group does not handle adversity well. They have given up when the shots didn’t fall. When the other team was getting their shots. When they weren’t doing what they wanted.
At this point there is only one question remaining about this team.
Are they going to give a shit?