1. Ashton Gibbs is having a subpar season. I'm guessing the talk of Gibbs being drafted into the NBA has now stopped. As I've said often, Gibbs can do one thing and one thing only- he can hit a wide open three when he can get it off. That's it. He's not a good defensive player, he can't make his own shots consistently, he's not very athletic, he's not tall, and he's not a floor leader. To his credit, for most of his career he's been good enough at his one great skill that he was the preseason Big East Player of the Year and an All-American candidate. But then the wheels fell off. Gibbs' shooting went south and without that his other weaknesses have been exposed. How bad has Gibbs been shooting from three lately? How about 28.3% in the last seven games and 16.7% in the last four. When your best player is playing so poorly then losses will always follow.
2. Lack of talent amongst the upperclassmen. Gibbs and Nasir Robinson are the Panthers two best players but let's be honest, on an Elite 8 team neither one of them starts. Yes, I know that Gibbs is an All-American candidate, but not only would he not start on your average Duke or North Carolina team, they probably wouldn't even see the floor. That doesn't mean they aren't good because they are, and they've both, especially Gibbs, proven over their career that they can play well against top teams. But at the end of the day, when that's you're two best players, there's only so far you can go.
3. Big misses on elite prospects. I'm looking at you Khem Birch and Dante Taylor. I know a lot of Pitt fans will never want another elite prospect now because of the failure of these two, but I won't waste my time telling you how ridiculous that is. Taylor was overrated from the very beginning, but nobody cold think he would have been this mediocre. He's not the most athletic player but entering Pitt he was considered a tough kid who should be an excellent rebounder and maybe have a decent amount of double doubles. Instead he is in his third season with the Panthers and is averaging 7.9 ppg and 5.9 rpg. He's also just had one double double this season and scored in double figures just four times, with a high of just 15.
Birch was an aloof kid with a different personality that Dixon is used to. In fact, if he wasn't hand delivered by then assistant Pat Skerry, I doubt that Dixon would have even pursued Birch since he didn't have the mental and physical toughness that Dixon desires. But having said that, many national basketball writers I've talked to are wondering if maybe Dixon mishandled Birch. That maybe Birch, because of his fragile ego, shouldn't have been treated like the rest of Pitt's tough guys are treated. At the very least, Birch should have played early and often. He's clearly better than anybody else at his position and he should have been allowed to learn on the job. Not that Birch is some victim. The truth is, he was at least starting and would have eventually got more and more time. The fact that he quit makes him, well...a quitter. And quite frankly, all the talent in the world can't help a quitter.
4. Questionable recruiting/player development. It's hard to say which is the problem, and to be honest, it's probably both. But there are some players on the current roster that are starting to look like misses, or at the very least, has to make you worry that they'll end up as a miss. Isaiah Epps is somebody that Pitt was on hard early, and offered based on potential. Unfortunately, however, he committed two years before joining Pitt and to be honest in those two years he never developed as they had projected. In fact, he's been at Pitt two more years and still hasn't developed into what they expected. Cameron Wright, though just a redshirt freshman, is another interesting pickup because you wonder what the end game will be with him. He lacks offense, and doesn't have a lot of upside, so you have to wonder what Pitt saw in him. What's even more troublesome is that with his lack of elite talent he has still started when Travon Woodall was out with an injury. Sophomores J.J. Moore and Talib Zanna are two more players that need to get better in a hurry.
5. Lack of elite guards. It sounds crazy with an All-American candidate and by this time I'm no doubt getting criticism for trashing Gibbs. The truth is, I think he's a good player. But if you want to have a truly elite team, and that's why where here right, then you need really good guards and Pitt doesn't have that. Of Pitt's five guards, none are a true point guard. None. Even though four of them are point guard size and the one who is two guard size can't shoot.
6. Lack of size and athleticism. With Woodall in the lineup, the starting five goes 5'11", 6'1, 6'4", 6'5", and 6'9". And of those four the only one that really can be considered any kind of top flight athlete is the 5'11" Woodall. Gibbs, Patterson, Robinson, and Taylor are average athletes at best.
Summary- Of course, I could go through like a statistician nerd and show you how the defense isn't as good, the offense isn't as good, the rebounding isn't good, etc., but it all comes down to personnel. With the right personnel, all of those other things will take care of themselves.
At the end of the day, Pitt got to this point because of some poor choices in recruiting. But the truth is, that happens with every program. The only thing unusual about this situation is that it took Dixon so long for it to happen to him. If you miss on your two big supposed stars, as Dixon did, you are obviously going to have a dearth of talent. But that's about to change. Center Steven Adams and point guard James Robinson are two missing pieces that will get Pitt back on track. That's if Dixon plays them. If he plays Woodall over Robinson, and Taylor or Zanna over Adams, then he's just going to have another subpar season, and this time he will deserve much more criticism.