Monday, October 28, 2013

Pitt basketball is on the right track

For some strange reason there are an alarming number of Pitt fans who are pessimistic when it comes to the Pitt basketball program.  I don't know if this is because these people are irritated with the Pitt football program and they're taking out on the basketball program, or if it's because Pittsburgh isn't a basketball city, but whatever the reason, these fans are off base.  In fact, a case can be made that things are about to get even better for Jamie Dixon.

Let's look first at Pitt's recent past.  There has been some upheaval in the last two seasons because  the results have not been as good on the court, and a significant number of players left early. While this has made some fans apoplectic, the truth is, this is not uncommon at all.

Jim Calhoun had many down years after he turned UConn into a power. In the 2009-10 season, UConn went 18-16. That was between a 31-5 Final Four season and a 32-9 National Championship season. He's had other seasons with records of 15-13, 18-15, and 17-14. Jim Boeheim has been in four NITs in the last seventeen years.  A year after going to the Final Four, Rick Pitino led Louisville to the NIT, and just four years ago he was 20-13.  Also four seasons ago, Roy Williams led North Carolina to the NIT a year after leading the Tar Heels to the National Championship. Even Mike Krzyzewski led Duke to an 8-8 ACC record in the 2006-07 season.

Nobody questioned the excellence of these coaches at the time because people knew there was extenuating circumstances. When these great coaches had the players they would win a lot. In the few instances when the players weren't there even their greatness could only take the team so far. Injuries, graduations, transfers, and even bad luck all combine to form a perfect storm of mediocrity. It even happens to Hall of Fame coaches.

The only subpar year that Dixon had was the 2011-2012 season in which Pitt won the CBI Championship and went 22-17.  This was just one year after winning the Big East with a 15-3 record, and going 28-6 to finish No. 4 in the country.  That was just three years ago!  Last year, despite starting two true freshmen and with a leading scorer who averaged just 11.5 ppg and shot 37% from the field, Dixon still led the Panthers to a fourth place finish in the Big East, 24 wins, and a No. 20 ranking.

The program has been a success for over a decade and now there isn't a high school player in the country that doesn't see Pitt basketball as a high level program.  Do they see them as Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, or Syracuse? No. Those programs have been greater longer and they just happen to be led by four of the small handful of coaches who've been more successful than Dixon. Until Pitt wins big in the postseason they will not beat those schools out for an elite player.  But that doesn't mean that there still aren't excellent players out there to be had. And being in the ACC will help Pitt immensely. Even though the Big East was always a marquee conference, there was competition for the best conference with the ACC.  Now the ACC is the conference to be in if you want to be playing with the best.

Dixon is clearly adapting to the ACC, both in style and quality of talent. Incoming and future forwards like Mike Young, Sheldon Jeter, and Ryan Luther are signs of the adapting. All three are versatile power forwards who can run, pass, and shoot. Gone are the plodding bruisers that Pitt terrorized teams with in the Big East. And guards like Josh Newkirk and Detrick Mostella are fast and explosive, another facet that the Panthers usually lacked in their Big East days.  Mostella being eligible would be a real coup for the Panthers as he can not only fly but he can also shoot the lights out. Mostella, who has had grade issues and has not been ruled eligible, joins highly talented center Joseph Uchebo, who will play little or not at all this season because of a leg injury, as players who can make Pitt excellent as soon as next year. Both are question marks, but both also have NBA talent.  They are also both examples of Dixon using his savvy to find big time talent that fell through the cracks. Every program takes gambles on players and these two players are the best gambles you can take.

But Pitt is not so desperate that they have to rely just on those two for future success. The recruiting by the staff has never been more aggressive. The rehiring of former ace recruiter and top assistant Barry Rohrssen is a huge bonus. Not only does this now allow the staff to have an extra recruiter on the road (it was a mistake not to have this before), but Rohrssen is the strong right hand man that Dixon has lacked since Tom Herrion left. And because of Rohrssen, and Dixon's new aggressive approach, I can see the Panthers' recruiting take off.

This season there has been some good local additions in Jeter and Luther, and 7'0" center Satchel Pierce may be added, too. And if not Pierce, Dixon is currently looking at other off the map center prospects that are intriguing. But it takes a few years to be involved with the truly elite prospects. And that's what the Panthers have done.

Let's start with Maverick Rowan, another local, who could end up being a top 50 player.  He's the real deal, a player that at 6'6" is a highly skilled shooting guard, something Pitt has never had in the past. He has already verbally committed to the Panthers, and even though he's currently listed as a 2016 prospect, 2015 is not out of the realm of possibility.  Does a potential backcourt of James Robinson, Newkirk, Mostella, and Rowan sound like a program that's reeling? No, that's a program that's thriving like never before. Throw in highly athletic forwards like Jeter, Luther, and Young, and you can see how Pitt has the potential to be more athletic and explosive than ever.

Then there are the national elite prospects that the Panthers are recruiting well in advance, something they failed to do in the past.  Previously Dixon did not aim high, and I even had somebody on the staff tell me that they target people they "think we have a chance with."  I found this alarming and too conservative. Dixon rarely went for the best recruits because he didn't think he could land them, or didn't want to do what it took to land them (kiss the butts of handlers and power hungry relatives). Dixon would methodically follow under the radar types for many months before finally making his move.

But no more. No doubt that the combination of Rohrssen rejoining the staff, Dixon's new contract bringing him stability, the desire to right his recent wrongs, and the move to the ACC has energized Dixon like never before. He and his staff have already targeted, and begun to recruit heavily, some of the best prospects in the country in the 2015 and 2016 classes.

At "Morning Madness" this season, Pitt put on a show like they've never done before, and had superstar prospects there to see it.  Cheick Diallo, a 6'9" forward/center from Long Island is a top 10 prospect that is as elite as they come in the 2015 class. He was there.  So was his 6'7" teammate Kassoum Yakwe, a top 25 prospect in the 2016 class. The last of the big time prospects was 6'8" 275 pound Fort Wayne, IN center Caleb Swanigan, a top 20 2016 prospect.  The chances of the Panthers getting any of three are not great simply because of the competition, but the fact that they got them on the campus so far in advance is something the program didn't, and maybe couldn't, get done before. To get these types of talents it takes years of courting and Pitt has begun to do that.

It doesn't stop with those three, though. If Mostella does not make into the program, Dixon is prepared with some 2015 possibilities. Top 20 New Jersey point guard Isaiah Briscoe has been offered, as has 6'5" top 20 shooting guard Malachi Richardson, also from New Jersey, and fast rising 6'4" Delaware guard Donte Divincenzo.

The Panthers staff may end up with none of these players, but there chances are much greater now than they ever were because more than ever the program is on track to do what it takes to land more of the better players.  They only need one special player to move to a higher level. The closest Dixon ever came to the Final Four was the only time he had two special players, in DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.  Rowan may be that player. Newkirk may be that player. Mostella may be that player. Maybe will be Yakwe or Swanigan.  Or maybe even Uchebo.  This is not the type of talent that a struggling program is involved with.

Bottom line, don't sleep on Dixon and this program. They had a two year hiccup, and if that's the worst it gets then that's pretty special.  There's many reasons why the program may be on the verge of finally reaching an even better level.  And if they don't, the program is still better than 95% of the programs in the country and that's pretty special in itself.




52 comments:

  1. Great post Chris. I think my frustrations with basketball (and football) has been the continued disappointing losses. That being said, I've become rejuvenated in the program thanks to the re-hiring of Barry 'Slice.' I thought he was tremendous during his first stint here during a time, I believe, as most exciting era for Pitt basketball. I know Mostella isn't eligible right now, but I've heard rumblings that he could be ready for the second semester. Is there any truth to that? Also, what should we expect this year? Another down year? A surprisingly successful team? I can't read this team at all.

    Finally, I find it difficult to call Dixon a great coach until he wins something. A national championship would be great, but a Final 4 appearance would be awesome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're picked 6th in the very competitive ACC so it's safe to say that they'll have a good year. They'll win 20 or more games. Exactly how good they do, though, we'll have to see.

      Delete
    2. Really enjoyable article Chris, thanks! Would have to agree with most of what is said that pertains to the JD Slice combo. I feel like the biggest question mark is with the Mostella eligibility. When would we have a more definitive idea on that and how would it effect Dixon's recruiting?

      Delete
  2. Chris - I read that Uchebo may be done due to this continuing injury to his knee and that he would finish out his education at Pitt.

    IF that's not the case and he does play next year and IF Mostella gets eligible in December then we're in great shape but, those are very big IF'S.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like I wrote, there are other options beyond them. They were two players you take a chance on but if they don't make it then you lose nothing. It's very smart by Dixon.

      Delete
  3. Chris - Don't you even dare put those coaches in the same sentence as Dixon. Make about 5 final fours then we will talk. Until then, regular seasons mean nothing. Gada ask...will Dixon make a final 4?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pitt had no basketball program at all about a dozen years ago. Now they don't get to a final four and people complain. Some of you have completely lost touch with reality. The programs that are better than them have been great for 25 or 50 YEARS!!!

      Delete
    2. Come on Chris.
      The difference is, Pitt made a strategic choice and invested heavily in basketball with new arena, etc.
      Pitt has the facilities. Pitt was always in the "best" league whether Big East and now the ACC.
      I believe Pitt should be Sweet 16 every year with an occassional Final 4.

      I firmly believe, the reason Dixon can't land elite players is his style of play or his controlling manner. He wasn't that bad say 3 yrs ago. And without elite players, Pitt will have trouble making Sweet 16.

      Delete
    3. I'm not surprised that you believe that. I could have bet on it.

      Delete
    4. UConn was worse off than Pitt when Calhoun arrived compared to Dixon and you flat out know that. Don't try to make excuses for Dixon. You are not an elite coach until you make a final 4.

      Delete
    5. I hate to break this to you but it took Calhoun until his 13th season until he made a final four. It took Boeheim until his 11th year. It takes time if you want to start a new power.

      Delete
    6. It took Shaka Smart 2 years to get to Final 4.
      It took Brad Stevens 3 years.
      It took Ben Howland 12 years counting Northern AZ, Pitt, UCLA.
      In 9 years, Sean Miller has NOT made Final 4.

      Delete
    7. Yeah… those "elite" players that Wichita St. used to get to the final four… how many 5 star recruits? How many lottery picks? Yeah… that's what I thought.

      Delete
    8. How consistently does Wichita State even make the tournament? Yeah... that's what I thought too. They're called cindarella teams for a reason.

      Delete
  4. I have heard we are going after someone in Hungary i think or some country out that way.. not sure what class that would be. The bball program deserves a little patience to get it back on track ( they earned it for years).. The football program.. with the terrible coaching hire will probably be set back for the next 5 years as i'm sure in 3 years we'll have someone new trying to clean up the mess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But they aren't even off track. They were No. 20 last year. There are over 200 teams. You can't be in the top 10 every year.

      Delete
  5. If only our football program could have a fraction of the basketball success.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can Slice coach football, or at least recruit for the team?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Zatti Moody--Uchebo was on the bench in sweats at the UCSD exhibition game. So, they obviously haven't given up on him health wise at this point in time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Chris for this post!! Respect your opinion. Looking forward to the season. I love how Dixon Coaches and gets the most out of his players.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't disagree with you, but it has to be a bit concerning when so many players have transferred/left over the last handful of seasons. Don't get my wrong, I think highly of Dixon but you have to look at the realities. I personally think Pederson/administration has invested highly in basketball over the last decade and maybe a bit more than football at this point.

      Delete
  9. Great info .... I respect what JD (and BH before him) has done for this program. Yes, I'd love a final 4 or a title but given our success with what we've had to work with, JD is a great coach. I've been disappointed with some of the talent in the last couple of years but have no doubts that JD and staff will pick it up with our entry into the ACC. I'm excited about this year and actually look forward to seeing the new faces. Hail to Pitt!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Chris, extremely well written article. Can you please elaborate more on the current Detrick Mostella situation? He seems like a player that could potentially take this program to unknown heights. Really hope he ultimately ends up in a Pitt uniform

    ReplyDelete
  11. thanks for giving a lots of knowledge about this game....

    ReplyDelete
  12. It's "spilled milk" at this point, but from a purely selfish viewpoint it sure wouldda been nice to have Steve Adams for one more season.

    But he was arguably proven right by being drafted in the first round.

    As a consolation prize, having more guys from Pitt playing in the NBA will raise our street cred, which helps our recruiting, too.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Amazing all of these naysayers think Dixon is the issue and the program underachieves. With so many good D-I basketball programs out there - and especially in the conferences Pitt has and will compete in - what makes Pitt basketball so consistent as a winner and relevant in the national picture? How is Pitt different than say a Ga Tech? By having a good coach who runs a stable program with an identity. Pitt fans need to look no further than the football program as proof to what happens when those things are absent. Dixon is the main reason for Pitt's success and fans need to wake up and appreciate what is going on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Disagree.
      Peterson is the reason for Pitt BB success.
      He is the one who made the strategic choice to emphasize BB and build facilities to be top notch in USA. He hired Howland and if you recall, Dixon was his 2nd choice after Howland left for UCLA.
      With all the money Pitt poured into Basketball as compared to football, I expect Pitt to be Sweet 16 every year. Thats not asking for much I don't think.

      Delete
    2. Pitt pours a lot more money into football than basketball and Pederson (not Peterson) wasn't even there when Dixon was hired. You better quit while you're behind.

      Delete
    3. Chris,
      Relatively speaking, Pitt pours more money into basketball. You have to scaled it based upon 13 to 85 scholarship players. So, on a per player basis, Pitt spends more on basketball. Heck, the arena was what, 120million in 2002?
      Pitt football rents its practice facilities and game facilities!

      Delete
    4. Joe D., as is the case 90% of the time, you have no idea what you're talking about.

      Delete
    5. Really, how many BCS football teams rent their practice facilities and game facilities.
      Pitt and Peterson made a strategic choice 15 years ago.

      Delete
    6. And were are you going to plop down a giant stadium in the middle of Oakland because I'd love to hear it.

      Delete
    7. Even though he's banned, would like to add that the #7 team in the country rents their practice facilities and stadium. Pitt is an urban campus, expecting another football stadium is foolish.

      Delete
  14. Personally, I love our hoops program (I love Pitt in general) and feel very comfortable with Dixon leading the way. Would I love a Final Four, of course, who wouldn't? But Pitt hoops wins and it wins a lot. I was at Pitt from 2001 to 2005 and the energy, excitement, crave, passion, etc. that Pitt hoops brought to my college experience will forever be a great memory of mine. Heck, I live in Florida now and all of my coworkers and friends put Pitt hoops on a VERY high pedestal. It feels good to hear them talk so highly of Pitt every basketball season.

    -JAM05PITT

    ReplyDelete
  15. How do you rate the forwards as guys who can take opponents off the dribble? Dixon style offense is stagnant when he doesn't have anyone who can take someone off the dribble. Now if these guys can drive to go with their passing Pitt's offense becomes that much more efficient

    One other question. Do you see Dixon adding some marquee out of conference games anytime soon? While I do consider Jaime an elite coach I can't give him all these accolades for winning so much when he gets 13+ easy wins every year. I can understand conference play being enough to get a team ready for the tourney but watching a Mich St play such a balls OOC schedule every year and then making runs in the tourney holds some validity. And I believe JD even said last year on TNT that he was trying to learn from Izzo on their success

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dixon has a good record against people like Calhoun, Boeheim, and Pitino. Not to mention other current greats. He has proven himself many times.

      Delete
    2. I really have no complaints with the program because I'm sane. I'm also 100% positive there is no basis for what I'm about to say. Non-conference games SEEM like they provide opportunities for recruits to see something different. I know every team has cupcakes but I really do wish for the day that we get a couple real marquee names on the non conference schedule. It's not rational but I was so much more excited for the Duke game at MSG years back than any conference game. Imagine having Duke, UNC, and Syracuse every year and mixing in an Ohio State, Kansas or Kentucky.

      Delete
  16. Joe D., I've tried to be nice and include everybody on this blog, including you, but I can't take it anymore. I've given you tons of leeway and you just won't stop with your inane babbling. Don't bother posting on here anymore because I am now going to block every single post you make.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank You - he contributes zero. We've all had enough.

      Delete
    2. From a long time reader and very rare poster, let me just say, thank you! That's a long overdue decision, You've been more than tolerant Chris!

      Delete
    3. THANK YOU CHRIS! I MAY EVEN POST MORE OFTEN!!!

      Delete
    4. Chris, I applaud your decision. While everyone has the right to express their opinions, Joe was a very divisive presence, and I'm surprised you tolerated him this long.

      Joe, if you're reading this, remember: "You've got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run."

      I raise a glass of Kool-Aid to you.

      Delete
  17. I agree with your analysis Chris. What is your sense that our perceived increased presence with the higher profile recruits is due to an increased recruiting budget (due to the move to the ACC)? Some folks have commented that our recent run of local commits (Jeter, Luther, maybe Satchel Paige) could be due to a reduced recruiting budget, but my broader view and info from national recruiting guys indicates that Pitt is much more active farther away from PA, MD, VA, Philly, and NY than they have in the recent past. Heck, that kid from Washington state was seriously considering Pitt. I think that getting a guy like Luther is good in that he is likely to stay for 4 years and won't transfer "to be closer to home". And being on the radar of some prominent 4 and 5 star guys is important because even if they don't come to Pitt initially, then chances are that some of them will want to transfer from their initial choice, and at least Pitt will have a previous relationship with them, which at least gets the foot in the door.
    Final thought: I hope Mostella makes it into a Pitt uniform eventually. He could be that guy that gets a bucket whenever he wants which is something Pitt could really use sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Chris: I am very long time reader of your column and you write excellent material -- Keep up the nice work.

    This is my first ever post and I thank you for finally banning Joe B. permanently - his constant negativity, sarcasm, etc. detracts from the quality & value of your web site.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am not a huge fan of Dixon, however you have to respect his record. People also tend to forget how long it took Coach K, Calhoun, Boeheim, etc . . . before they won a championship.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I feel Dixon has done a great job continuing and making the program his own after taking over for Howland.

    Would like to see Pitt improve their OOC schedule, as someone else mentioned above. Even if he's able to start consistently pulling in 2-3 top players a year, that should only help in their development. And make the games more interesting to the fans.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Chris - At what point in time is it OK to raise the expectation to a final 4 appearance? I feel like we are at or near that point where asking for a final 4 isn't being unreasonable. Its beyond fair to question whether Dixon will ever make it I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Chris, Thank you for FINALLY pulling the plug on Mr Sunshine. Makes me want to start visiting this blog more often. I'm sure he'll find somewhere else to troll.

    As for hoops, this was an excellent post. I have had Season Tix for 30 years and the quality of Pitt BB has improved dramatically over that time. I'm a Dixon believer.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Chris - great, well thought out article. Really enjoy your blog. I'll admit that I'm a Dixon fan and I'm always surprised when I go back home and hear all the talk about getting rid of Dixon. Google Roy Williams, Boeheim, Pitino and Jim Calhoun and look how long it took them to get to a final four and then win a NC.

    Conversely, I would love the success and stability of the BB program for the FB program. But that is an entirely different thread, lol.

    H2P!!

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well done Chris! Looking forward to BB season..

    As for JoeD, I am a believer if you have something to say that is critical of the program, just say it once and be done with it. Beating a dead horse post after post can only have a negative effect in the long run. Retiring JoeD was a step in the right direction.

    ReplyDelete
  25. To answer your first paragraph - it's simple really

    Look at what Pitt has done, scheduling wise. They play 10 patsies or more every year. Yeah, I know - you still have to win them, right? Gimme a break.....Dixon is worse than Paterno when it comes to padding his win total. Here's 2012's stellar lineup:

    "It opens regular season play against Albany on Nov. 11. Home opponents include Rider (Nov. 13), Long Beach State (Nov. 16), La Salle (Nov. 22), Robert Morris (Nov. 27), VMI (Dec. 6), South Carolina State (Dec. 17), St. Francis, Pa. (Dec. 20) and Wagner (Dec. 23).

    Pitt will play four games as part of the fifth annual Philly HoopGroup Classic. On Thanksgiving weekend, the Panthers are scheduled to play Penn on Friday, Nov. 25 at the Philadelphia Palestra. Pitt’s three other HoopGroup games at the Petersen Events Center include Rider, La Salle and Robert Morris."

    Add Duquesne in there and there ya have it....a perfect recipe for a 20 win season every year. A few conference wins in the regular season, a conference tournament win or maybe even 2 and another sure thing for Dixon. Even in a rebuilding season it's close to a sure thing...

    And last had Pitt with this wonderful rating:

    Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23)
    Next-toughest: Detroit (Dec. 1)
    The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 9), Fordham (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 27), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center), North Florida (Dec. 8), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Dec. 23)

    "It's hard to fault Jamie Dixon for his scheduling philosophy. As SI.com's Luke Winn wrote last month, Dixon is the nation's best RPI exploiter; he slips in every crevice of the NCAA's crude metric, all while rarely putting his team at risk. And with due praise out of the way, sorry, but this schedule is really ugly. Pitt is likely to play Michigan and either Virginia or Kansas State in the NIT Season Tip-Off, but even if those games were guaranteed they're not enough to keep the Panthers off this list. Besides, sure, Pitt was bad last year, but let's not forget that this is still Pitt, one of the most comprehensively consistent programs of the past decade. Their scheduling sights should be set much higher."

    https://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/65140/the-10-worst-nonconference-schedules

    This 20 win streak stuff is a selling point for recruits who don't look at Pitt's schedule. Yeah....they'll win 20 again this season.....maybe.

    ReplyDelete