Monday, April 27, 2015

Narduzzi adds a big time transfer

The Pat Narduzzi era continues to shine bright with the news that Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix will transfer to Pitt.  The 6'4" 257 pound defensive end was an elite recruit that lettered as a freshman at Tennessee.  Coming out of high school Hendrix's offers, besides Tennessee, included Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida, Kansas State, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Nebraska, and USC. He will have to sit out this year, but then will have three years to play three years. Needless to say, he is the early favorite to start at either defensive end or defensive tackle in the 2016 season. He is currently listed as 6'4" and 275 pounds and he's a native of O'Fallon, IL.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Panthers add a shooting guard

Jamie Dixon's 2015-16 Pitt Panthers just got better today by adding Coppin State transfer Sterling Smith. The 6'4" Sacramento, CA native is a graduate transfer and will therefore be eligible immediately.

The shooting guard will compete with 6'6" redshirt junior Chris Jones for playing time. Smith is a good defender and rebounder, but his forte is his three point shooting. This past season he averaged 13.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 spg, and 1.4 apg. He also shot 46.8% from the floor, 77.2% from the free throw line, and 41.8% from three. Against Notre Dame, UConn, and Michigan Smith averaged 11.7 ppg and made 8 of 20 three pointers.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pitt has a new athletic director

The University of Pittsburgh today announced that Scott Barnes has been hired as their athletic director. This is an excellent hire for the university. The 52-year old Barnes has been the athletic director at Utah State since 2008. In that time he earned his reputation as one of the best fundraisers in college athletics. He was also the chairman of the men's basketball committee. Barnes was also a very successful athletic director at Eastern Washington, and was the senior associate athletic director at Washington prior to his tenure at Utah State. He played basketball at Fresno State, and briefly played professionally in Germany. He was born in Spokane, WA, and has an 18-year old daughter, who plays basketball at Utah State, and a 16-year old son.

Friday, April 17, 2015

NOW is the time to ignore the previously written headline

I've resisted the talk of Pitt basketball being in trouble because, to be honest, it was too early to make that decision. Some Pitt fans have a way of being pessimistic and thinking that everything is awful when it really isn't. And to be fair, Pitt basketball is never going to be awful as long as Jamie Dixon is the head coach. And I don't see Pitt getting rid of him anytime soon. I also think Dixon will win his fair share of games. But the time has come to finally say that Dixon may have seen his best days- at least on a consistent basis. The stars will probably align a few seasons, and he may have some impressive years. But that's probably the best that can be asked for at this time.

The player that broke the camel's back is Mustapha Heron, who committed to Pitt last year, and who could have brought the Panthers right back to prominence. Unfortunately, today Heron has opened up his recruitment and if history is any guide, he won't be back. At one time Dixon had commitments from Heron and Maverick Rowan, and was leading for Cheick Diallo. Will all three added to the roster, the 2016 class could have been a Final Four contender, and maybe even a favorite to go that far. Now the Panthers could likely struggle to make the final 25 in upcoming seasons, and beyond.

It took a perfect storm to get here. The move to the ACC did not help at all, but Dixon can only use that excuse so much. The problem mostly lays with him. His staff is weak, and the rest of the college basketball world knows it. One text from a college coach in the last few days read, "He must address the staff situation ASAP!!". Another coach texted to me about Dixon, "He has no lead assistant coach". Today, after Heron's de-committment was announced, a third coach texted me, "Oh my the roof is caving in at Pitt".

Dixon is not an awful recruiter, as many detractors claim, but he's certainly not a great one either. So the fact that he does not have one ace recruiter on his staff is inexcusable.  Smoke Williamson is a good guy, and could be an excellent recruiter for some schools, but he's a bad fit for Pitt. Pitt is not going to get elite players out of Michigan. It's just not going to happen. And that's where Williamson's ties are. Brandon Knight is a good recruiter, but he's not the ace that the Panthers need. Bill Barton adds little on the recruiting trail.

It's gotten so bad for the Panthers that they're desperately trying to find starting players anywhere they can find them. Yes, some big name programs are going after players like Mike Thorne or Ike Nwamu, but they are looking at them as complimentary players. On Pitt, however, these two would be among their best players. Then there is any so-called "fast riser" they come across, which incidentally is another name for a player that wasn't good enough to sign before, but is good enough to sign now that you're desperate. The fact that Pitt is even trying to sign Marcus LoVett is all you need to know about how desperate things have gotten. And it's a trend that's been going on for a few years. Dixon's centers last year were Joseph Uchebo, Derrick Randall, and Tyrone Haughton. All great kids but all desperation moves by Dixon because none of them were very good.

I will end this like I started it. Dixon will still win games, but probably not as much as he used to win.  He could always leave himself, but I don't see him getting fired in the next few years. However, with a new AD coming in, Dixon is finally looking to be less untouchable in the future. And the fault is mostly his own. He's lost his way. And since he's not somebody that's known to adapt, I can only assume that he won't find his way all the way back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Four athletic director candidates leaked

According to Rick Walsh of KDKA, there are five candidates, but thus far he knows of only four. Those four are:

Vince Nicastro- He's been the athletic director at Villanova for 15 years so needless to say he has a lot of experience. He got his undergraduate degree from Bloomsburg State, and his MBA from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He's in his early 50s.

Mark Coyle- He's been the athletic director at Boise State for almost 3 and a half years. In 2014-15, Boise State won the conference championship in football, and both men's and women's basketball. Hired back former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to be the head coach, a year after Harsin left to be the head coach at Arkansas State. Harsin was 12-2 this season, his first year as head coach at the school. Prior to Boise State he was the Deputy Athletic Director at Kentucky where he oversaw the day to day operations of the basketball program, among other things. He received his bachelor's degree from Drake, a master's degree from Drake in teaching, and a master's degree from Florida State in sports administration. His wife is a doctor of physical therapy, which Pitt is considered to be the best in the nation. He is 46.

Sean Frazier- He's been the athletic director at Northern Illinois for the past two years. Prior to Northern Illinois he spent six years at Wisconsin in support of Barry Alvarez. A native of Long Island, NY, he played football at Alabama. he received a bachelor's degree from Alabama, a master's degree at the University of Maine, and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Wisconsin. He's in his early 50s.

Scott Barnes- He's been the athletic director at Utah State for the past seven years.  Under his leadership the Utah State athletics department routinely finished amongst the most economically efficient athletic departments in the nation. In 2009 Utah State won a national award given to the athletic program that won the most championships with the lowest expenses. Previously he worked for three years at Washington and was the athletic director at Eastern Washington for six years. he received both his bachelor's and master's degree from Fresno State. He also played basketball at Fresno State, and he even played basketball professionally in Germany for a short time. His daughter plays on the women's basketball team. He's 52.


Durand Johnson leaves Pitt

Jamie Dixon's program continues to take shots, this time losing 6'6" small forward Durand Johnson for good. Johnson missed last season because of a suspension, and was being counted on by many to help the Panthers next season with his offensive skills. Now Dixon will be forced to scramble even more to find quality players for the upcoming season.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wisconsin has shown just how close Pitt came in 2009

Watching the Final Four this weekend I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the Wisconsin team of this year and Pitt's 2009 team that came within a hair of the Final Four.

Wisconsin was led by Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky who averaged 18.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. Pitt had Player of the Year runner-up DeJuan Blair who averaged 15.7 ppg and 12.3 rpg. I think it's safe to say they are equal. The next best player for the Badgers was Sam Dekker, who averaged 13.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg. The Panthers counter with their own star small forward in Sam Young, who averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg. While Dekker got a lot of publicity during the tournament it's apparent that Young was a better player.

In the big games near the end of the tournament, the duos are also equal. Kaminsky went for 29 points and 6 rebounds in the Elite 8 game, followed by 20 points and 11 rebounds against Kentucky in the Final Four game, and 21 points and 12 rebounds in the final. Dekker had 27 points and 5 rebounds in the Elite 8 game, 16 points and 3 rebounds in the Final Four game, and 12 points and 8 rebounds in the championship game.  Blair went for 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Elite 8 loss to Villanova. He was also 9-9 from the field. Sam Young went off for 28 points and 7 rebounds in the Elite 8 loss. Again, both duos did not disappoint.

Pitt's third best player on the '09 team was Levance Fields while Wisconsin started two point guards on the year. Traevon Jackson was the designated starter at the beginning of the season, and was the starter last season, but a foot injury cost him half the year this season. Anybody that has seen Jackson play saw that he's amazingly slow and not athletic, even on a team that's pretty slow and not athletic. On the season he averaged 8.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, and 0.9 spg, while shooting 43.2% from the field and 28.2% from three. His 85.1% FT shooting is really his only strength. His replacement at starter, Bronson Koenig, averaged 8.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, and a minuscule 0.2 spg.  He shot just 41.4% from the floor, but he did make 40.5% of his three point shots and 81.2% free throws.

Fields in '09 averaged 10.7 ppg, a fantastic 7.5 apg, and 0.8 spg, while shooting 39.8% from the floor, 34.1% from three, and 71.2% from the free throw line. Again, this seems mostly even.

In tournament action Koening had 6 points and 3 assists in the Elite 8, 12 points and 2 assists in the Final Four, and 10 points and 4 assists in the final. Fields, in the Elite 8, he had 10 points and 6 assists. Once again, very comparable.

So, we've established that Pitt's two best players in '09 were at least as good as Wisconsin's two best players (at both center and small forward), as well as at point guard. That leaves shooting guard and power forward.

At shooting guard, neither team could consider it a strength. The Badgers started Josh Gasser, who averaged 6.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 44.3% from the floor, 38.9% from three, and 82.7% from the line. Pitt trotted out Jermaine Dixon who averaged 8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg, 44% from the floor, 29.4% from three, and 65.7% from the line. Again, they're roughly the same, though Gasser is clearly the better shooter.

Both were also pretty unproductive when it mattered. Gasser had 10 points in the Elite 8 game, but he had 3 points in the Final Four, and no points in the final. In fact, he attempted just one shot in 36 minutes in the final. He did, however, at least have 6 rebounds. In the '09 Elite 8 game Dixon played just 20 minutes and had just 5 points on 1-6 shooting.

At power forward, Wisconsin had a big advantage. Nigel Hayes averaged 12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 49.7% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 74.4% from the line. For Pitt, Tyrell Biggs averaged 6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 49.5% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 62.5% from the line.

In the Elite 8 game, Hayes had 8 points and 3 rebounds, in the Final Four he had 12 points and 5 rebounds, and in the championship game he had 13 points and 1 rebound. Biggs, in the '09 Elite game, had no points in 15 minutes.

As often seems the case with Pitt basketball it was a case of bad timing and bad luck. The '09 team finally had two bonafide stars at their best at the same time, as well as a good veteran point guard. But after that they had nothing. Dixon and Biggs were mediocre starters at best, and the reserves was filled with the likes of Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Ashton Gibbs, none of whom were ready to contribute. All three eventually were starters on a future No. 1 seed team but they weren't ready to add much of anything in 2009. Look at Duke last night. Not all of their stars were doing well and they get saved by a freshman guard that just happened to be a McDonald's All-American. The blue blood programs can do that whereas most programs, like Pitt and Wisconsin, don't have a little used McDonald's All-American to come out of nowhere to bail them out.

But Pitt and Wisconsin both proved what a program that isn't one of the blue blood programs have to do. Kaminsky was a middling Power 5 recruit, but he developed into a star. That doesn't happen often so you can never count on that. Dekker was a top 20 prospect, and from Wisconsin. Blair was also an elite local recruit and it shows just how important it is to have elite prospects locally. Both Bo Ryan and Jamie Dixon get a rare local gem to stay home and both turn into powers when those players reach their peak.

At the end of the day, Wisconsin proved what Pitt has known for awhile, and that's that without a roster full of elite talent, that only the blue blood programs can do, everything has to be perfect to have any chance at all, and even then the elite talent will win in the end.