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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Update

First of all, I'm not going to make a big deal about this but I am no longer tweeting. I am still on there because a lot of coaches and prospects contact me through there and it's too difficult to change that, but like I said, I'm over Twitter.  It takes up just too much time. For my real job I am writing on the computer a lot so I can easily keep abreast of things on Twitter. But now my career is taking off and I don't have time to continually look on there. My wife and I are also going to be traveling a lot more and I don't want to have to worry about keeping up with what people are tweeting.  As for this blog, I may continue it for a day or a year, I don't know, but I will announce with a post when I'm done so that people aren't waiting around for a post that doesn't come.

One last thing I want to say about Twitter, because I want to set the record straight, is this Donovan Jeter incident. Not long after Jeter tweeted something about Penn State having a lot more people at their game than Pitt, I tweeted that there are two WPIAL prospects whose attitudes I don't like, and that I hope they don't end up at Pitt. I guess the timing made people think I was talking about Jeter, but what people chose to ignore is that I immediately followed it up with a tweet that neither of those players in question are going to end up at Pitt or Penn State. The obvious implication, or so I thought, is that both aren't high major prospects. One has gang ties and one has a sexual assault charge. If I had to guess I think Jeter will end up at Pitt, so he didn't fit the description in any way. I can see why Penn State people took it and ran with it to make myself and Pitt look bad, but what's sad is that there were Pitt "fans" that did the same. And that's kinda pathetic that some crazy Pitt fans try to take out a Pitt writer. I can take crazy Penn State fans because that's a given, but when Pitt fans try to sink you too then it was obvious that Twitter is a pretty messed up place. And the fact that the poor kid felt compelled to apology over such an innocuous comment makes the situation even more tragic. Lastly, I've been doing this for twelve years and I've never been accused of trashing a kid for saying something bad about Pitt, or for any other reason. I couldn't be doing this for so long if I did such things. Look at the media, coaches, players, etc. that follow me on Twitter.  These people wouldn't follow me if I did such things.

Now on to actual sports. As of now I would pick not only Jeter to Pitt eventually, but also Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford. If it happens as I see it, they will be three big thoroughbreds in Pat Narduzzi's defense for the future. And imagine a future secondary with Hamlin, Ford, and Jordan Whitehead.

I also see Kaezon Pugh eventually committing to Pitt if the grades are there. His top four of Pitt, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Rutgers is very telling. A player with his talent should have much better options, but the grades are a problem.  If the grades aren't up to snuff then West Virginia may be his best option.

As for others, I see Aaron Matthews and Rashad Wheeler to Pitt, Lamont Wade I would predict to Ohio State, and Robert Hainsey to Penn State. I don't have a feeling yet for Josh Lugg, CJ Thorpe, David Adams, Khaleke Hudson, and Therran Coleman.

I still love everything the new staff is doing at Pitt. Even though I get accused as a homer from time to time, I haven't been happy with the football program since Jackie Sherrill left, but now it's different. Some coaches have a certain gravitas that you just know they are going to be highly successful, and that's what I feel with Narduzzi. For many years many kids came to Pitt because they were the best option left or because they were the home team. But now it's different. Kids like Tony Butler and Thomas MacVittie would normally wait it out to see if they can do better, but Narduzzi and the staff blew them away. I've been hearing over and over again in the recruiting world a buzz for Pitt that I haven't heard since I've been doing this. Kids no longer see Pitt as second fiddle. They are looking at the program as someplace exciting.

As for the basketball program, with former Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih moving on to join Chris Mullin at St. John's, everybody now thinks Cheick Diallo will automatically sign with the St. John's now.  By my calculation, this is now the fifth so-called favorite for Diallo, including Pitt.  The truth is, nobody knows what Diallo is thinking. He said again just two days ago that all are even. Are they really? Maybe, maybe not, but nobody I've talked to, and I've talked to many, knows for sure which way he's leaning. In fact, most tell me the same thing that Diallo says himself, and that's that he wants to see how things shake out. And why wouldn't he? Let's say, for instance, that he committed to Iowa State because of Abdelmassih. Where would he be now? It's smart to wait because he has no idea what's going to happen. Kentucky and Kansas especially are teams that could have a lot of shakeup with with additions and departures in the next few weeks. I'm not saying that Diallo will end up at Pitt because simple mathematics say that you have to start at a 20% chance since there's five finalists, but what I am saying is that it's a fluid situation and anything's possible.

I would be shocked if Maverick Rowan ended up at Pitt and despite what people are saying now, I still expect him to end up at an Adidas school.

On to center, I think the Panthers have a legitimate shot of landing Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne. The big man was rumored by many to be going to Virginia Tech, but they didn't even make the final three. The other two finalists, other than Pitt, are Kansas and Illinois. Like Kentucky, every time Kansas is mentioned with a player everybody expects they will end up there. But by the time Thorne will choose, Kansas may have found a better option, and that's a real possibility. Thorne is clearly Plan B, at best, for them, and I can easily see Kansas filling the spot well before Thorne visits. As for Illinois, it doesn't seem like it's as good a fit for the Charlotte native who could play in the ACC instead. Ideally, Thorne and Rozelle Nix are solid at the five, Mike Young moves to the four, and Jamel Artis finally learns the nuances of the three. I don't know if all of that will happen, but even if it doesn't it doesn't hurt to have a veteran 6'11" and 270 pounds player that can help out in the middle. Is he an instant impact player? Maybe not. But he's better than Derrick Randall and a one legged Joseph Uchebo.

A lot has been made of Jamie Dixon's late season recruiting, and more specifically how much he fails, but the truth is, not every player Dixon watches, or even offers, at the end of the season is somebody he really wants. In recruiting, you sometimes offer a player first almost like a placeholder, then decide  if he's really worth is, if he fits, etc. For Thorne, Dixon really wants him so this will be an interesting test.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No. 3 for Narduzizi is a QB

Pat Narduzzi's first recruiting class continues to impress early, and now he has a quarterback to add to the mix. Thomas MacVittie of legendary football power Cincinnati Moeller committed to the Panthers this morning. MacVittie has great 6'4" 205 pound size to go with an excellent arm. At a place like Moeller you have to wait your turn so MacVittie had to wait his turn to the be the starter until this season, but he showed his great athleticism as a junior by playing wide receiver. An excellent runner, some speculate that he can run in the 4.5s.  

MacVittie's high school, as well as many football observers in Ohio, expect him to explode with a huge season this year. But I expect him to stay solid with the Panthers. His private quarterback teacher is friends with Panthers offensive coordinator John Chaney, and MacVittie brought his family to visit Pitt this morning so that everybody was comfortable with the commitment. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Narduzzi gets No. 2

Pat Narduzzi gets his second commitment as 6'5" 300 pound Upper St. Clair offensive lineman Brandon Ford pledged to the Panthers today. Ford is a little underrated right now, and is generally considered around No. 25 in the state. Other offers were from Maryland, Toledo, Akron, Bowling Green, and Buffalo. Very similar in ability to Hempfield's Tony Pilatro who committed to the Panthers in the 2015 class.