It may be sacrilege for a UConn student and fan to say, but as someone who wore a Pitt basketball shirt for third grade class picture day, watching the Panthers die a slow and miserable death this season has been awfully sad.
Pitt, who was chosen for the ACC over UConn, hasn’t just failed to live up to mid-2000’s glory days: they’ve completely combusted.
The Panthers are currently 8-20, 0-18 in the conference and according to KenPom projected to lose out. They opened the season with losses to Navy and Montana and it was all downhill from there.
Sure, things had gotten marginally stagnant under Jamie Dixon, but forcing him out just to replace him with former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has been an unmitigated disaster.
Pitt lost talented forward/center Ryan Luther, one of their lone returners, after 10 games. No big man leads to gunning and gun they have. The Panthers are no. 15 nationally in three-point attempt percentage at 46.8 percent of their field goals and 38.1 percent of their points come from three, no. 32 nationally. Sounds like modern basketball. Yet, they’re not very good at it, at 254th in the country in actual three-point percentage.
An inability to shoot isn’t their only woe this season . Stallings was a poor hire. The roster had tremendous turnover, including 11 newcomers. Save freshman point guard Marcus Carr, a scrappy scorer who distributes well, and JuCo transfer Jared Wilson-Frame (a Windsor, CT native), a bullish guard who can score, none of them were very good.
In the ACC, often considered the premier conference in the nation, that is a problem. It has really shown. Pitt is dead last in offensive and defensive efficiency. The only thing they don’t do abysmally in is limiting opponent three-pointers; they are third in opponent three-point percentage.
Going below .500, like Stalling did last year, hasn’t been tolerable at Pitt. Less than 10 wins, winless in conference and being flat out embarrassed is far worse. Stalling’s seat is incredibly hot. They’re not even competing, their in-conference average margin of defeat is 16.1 points per game and it’s not like he has a strong recruiting class waiting in the wings.
Maybe Pitt isn’t meant to be good and is in over its head. The city itself isn’t a great incubator for talent. Football is king, and the Penguins consistent success is consistently nudging hockey up the ladder as well.
But Jamie Dixon did it. Pitt was a strong team in a strong Big East for a long time. Ronald Ramon, Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray were all standouts. Those 2009 and 2011 teams were damn good, finishing no. 3 and no. 4 in KenPom respectively. In 2011 they won the Big East when it sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament.
Juxtaposing the present with those teams, who had absolute phenoms like Sam Young, LeVance Fields and Dejuan Blair, and studs like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon, is just depressing. They were typically prolific on offense and had a swagger and toughness.
The current iteration can’t do much of anything, it’s sparse for talent and appears as lifeless as any program in college hoops. I don’t think it's salvageable and I don’t know what happens next, but I do know this: I miss my old Pitt basketball.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.