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May 18, 2017

Finding the Right Road

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 6:41 am

A very good piece from Craig Meyer in the Post-Gazette. Talking about Pitt basketball trying to regain more then simply its footing.

In the past three years, going back to its later years under former coach Jamie Dixon, the program has faded from the national relevancy it once relished. In that time, it has posted a win percentage of .560, down significantly from the .763 percentage it posted in its 13-year peak from 2001-14. If anything, its recent mark is a regression to the mean, much closer to the .550 all-time win percentage the program owned prior to the 2001-02 season.

With those numbers come pressing queries. What can this program become? And where does it go from here?

I suspect this will be the sort of topic revisited more then a few times over the summer. There’s no easy answer — regardless of who the coach is or will be.

It strikes me as important not to react like this article is saying Pitt sucks or that the basketball program is a historically poor one. The fair reading of Pitt’s overall basketball history — especially if you look back before the past 15 years or so — is of slightly above average. Not dominant for extended periods, but rarely a perennial basement program.

The article cites the recent and not so recent success stories of programs that found themselves again — Arizona, Georgetown and Maryland. You could toss in places like Iowa State and Virginia.

But there are just as many that lost it and are still trying to get it back. Georgia Tech is cited, but in the ACC alone you can point to BC, Wake and NC State. The major conferences are littered with programs that had reached major heights within the last 20-30 years or so, but haven’t been able to get any consistency — or even crashing into misery — since: St. John’s, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State,  Washington, Stanford, Arkansas, Alabama and  Tennessee all come to mind. Schools with money to burn. Schools with rabid fans that support basketball.

Having the right coach and players is obvious, but nothing is ever assured. St. John’s, Minnesota and Tennessee all had scandals of one type or another that took out their momentum and have been searching for consistency and relevance ever since.

Wake, NC State, GT and Washington have had talent-laden rosters and/or top-ten NBA draft picks but little to show for it with wins and making noise in the NCAA Tournament.

In what should feel familiar for Pitt fans, Ohio State missed the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. In 2015, they had the 5th ranked recruiting class nationally. They do not have a single member of that class left in the program.

The article cites the poster-child these days for building a sustainable power — Villanova.

…[Villanova Head Coach Jay] Wright returned to a recruiting philosophy that had helped him achieve what he had earlier in his tenure. Instead of continuing to chase top-10 recruits he felt compelled to given Villanova’s newfound standing, he refocused his efforts on top-50 or top-100 prospects he believed had a better chance of staying in school for three or four years.

Part of me wants to laugh at how simple it reads. That a program and coach just needs to stay in his lane and it will come together.

It isn’t. It requires having an excellent coach and staff — for both recruiting and developing. Unmentioned is the little noticed fact that Jay Wright’s core coaching staff had not been poached or gotten new jobs in nearly seven years. Continuity from the top down.

This had been Pitt’s approach as well for most of the time under Jamie Dixon. Heck, it really isn’t that different from what Stallings was doing at Vandy. But, even recruiting top-100 players means you are going after 4-star/high 3-star kids. It’s not like these players are being ignored by all the other programs — even the schools that regularly get 5-stars. And you just can’t miss on too many. Can’t have many injuries. Too many transfers can’t happen. A lot has to go right.

It only looks natural, easy, and the way things should go when it is all going the right way.

Chas, you overlook one major factor. In basketball, unlike football, a single premier talent can turn a team from average to significantly above average quite rapidly. I recall Paul Evans saying that if he had a good point guard and a center he could win with 3 other guys from the gym. Pitt’s problem for too long has been that JD recruited the 6’6″ forwards that are plentiful out there without regard for the pg and center positions that are much harder to get. I’ve said this before: JD didn’t recruit a solid ACC level pg in 5 years since James Robinson was recruited. And after he missed on Dante Taylor and Steve Adams left early, he seemed to give up on centers in favor of a hybrid system of easier to recruit mid-sized forwards. It didn’t work. The programs that last over time are able to recruit solid point guards and centers.

Comment by VoiceofReason 05.18.17 @ 7:58 am

Nice article Chas I think we will all be surprised maybe not year one but I really think Stallings will get it together. Recruiting is key I think, HCKS is going after the right players and from following all the recruits and seeing what they say about Stallings and staff they are doing it right and giving there best to convince these kids that pitt is heading in the right direction.

Comment by PittPanFan 05.18.17 @ 11:27 am

Chas – Interesting, thanks for putting that together. In the Villanova/Wright situation cited above, it’s a really good example of how continuity can reap benefits, but it’s also true that the HC & staff you’re trying to keep together must be strong, otherwise you’re just keeping mediocrity in tact. Ironically, Dixon NEEDED turnover in his staff in order to turn around his recruiting situation, and in hindsight his continuity hurt him. With regard to Stallings… well, we’ll see, but I’ll just stop right there for today.

Comment by 1618mt 05.18.17 @ 12:39 pm

Mark Ellison 6’6 transfer from St Johns is coming. He averaged 7.7 over 2 years and will have 2 years eligibility … but has to sit this season

Comment by wbb 05.18.17 @ 6:18 pm

And yet Paul Evans had Charles Smith and Sean Miller and cashed out in the second round in 1988.

Dixon recruited centers like Diallo after Adams, he just didn’t land them. Not that Diallo has done anything yet.

Dixon also recruited guys that he intended to play the point. Stallings decided not to play them. That’s his prerogative. Question is would those guys have developed into capable players under Dixon?

I do agree to some degree with Meyer’s premise of recruiting players that match what you want to do. Young and Artis are perfect examples. They were both talented offensive players who would not play defense. They looked okay on the last truly good Pitt team that had Patterson and Zanna. Patterson and Zanna epitomized the Dixon overachiever. Very few of the guys Dixon recruited in his last five years were good defensive players.

I look at the stats that are available of the guys that Stallings has recruited. I don’t see a reason for optimism but to each his own.

Comment by Barvo 05.18.17 @ 6:36 pm

No optimism until the next coaching staff; then there may be hope.

Chas, where did this guy, Craig Meyer, come away with thinking PITT basketball today should be compared with our all time record of .550 before 2001.

Besides Fitzgerald Field House being minor league in my day in the early 60’s (Syracuse had Manly back then), PITT basketball also played below PITT Stadium for how many yrs? We didn’t care about BB for a long period.

Today, our name alone, location, and ACC exposure should automatically put us in the top 25 every yr.recruiting.

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 05.18.17 @ 10:38 pm

Pitt’s comparison baseline should be the early Dixon years. Those numbers were >.700

Our min should be >.700 each year. No excuses. That should be the standard.

Just like football’s min win should be 8 each year.

Comment by TX Panther 05.19.17 @ 6:50 am

And in basketball, all it takes is an elite player or two to become dominant. Its more talent than it is coaching.

Comment by TX Panther 05.19.17 @ 6:51 am

Barvo, you’re right, but the point is that JD DIDN’T get Diallo. Anyone can recruit a player, but signing him is the key. The point is, JD relied on average to above average players being overachievers and staying 4 years to succeed. This made sense during the early years of Howland and Dixon, but at some point you have got to break through and start getting some premier talent. Adams was such a player, but JD landed him only because he knew the father. What was the recruiting result after they were a number 1 seed? Not good.. Look at that class.

Comment by VoiceofReason 05.19.17 @ 7:42 am

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