Who Killed Pitt Basketball?
March 7, 2018 - Basketballs
PITTSBURGH — we hadn’t even finished it to my seat, and Pitt basketball was already vital down to my expectations.
Just inside a categorical opening to a Petersen Events Center were maybe dual dozen confidence crew and sheet takers. Nearly all of them milled about subsequent to a steel detectors, with zero to do. Until a few years ago, this was one of college basketball’s many rough arenas. But tonight—with Pitt sitting during 8-20 (0-15 ACC) streamer into a 9 p.m. tipoff on a Wednesday in late Feb opposite Wake Forest, a bland-but-superior opponent—there were few profitable business entrance through. Tickets were offering during a embankment for $45, yet we was means to squeeze dual for $31 by a reseller on my phone, even yet we usually indispensable one. we should have acted sooner; that afternoon, a same reseller had been charity seats for as small as $3.
Upstairs, a confluence was forlorn solely for a male in a reversion Ontario Lett jersey and a integrate of his buddies. we had seen dual of those dudes a few hours progressing during a Primanti Bros. down a towering on Forbes Avenue—one of a few indicators around campus that there was even a diversion to be played.
Pitt basketball’s skirmish began slowly, when a mercantile realities of big-time college sports—a business a NCAA pretends is not a business—forced a university to desert what was afterwards a exploding Big East for a ACC, commencement with a 2013-14 season.* The employing of Kevin Stallings to reinstate Jamie Dixon as conduct manager in Mar 2016 effectively gave a module a final force down a mountain.
Just dual years ago, in Dixon’s final season, a Panthers won 21 games and reached a NCAA tournament, their 13th coming in 15 years. Pitt is positively not a blue blood on a sequence of Duke or Kentucky, and it lacks a gilded story of North Carolina, Kansas, or UCLA. It hasn’t reached a Final Four in scarcely 80 years, prolonged before a Final Four was even unequivocally a thing. But in this century, a Panthers had determined themselves as consistently top-tier: At one point, they appeared in a AP tip 10 in 11 uninterrupted seasons. The Pete, that non-stop in 2002 on a former site of a on-campus football stadium, frequently sole out. It wasn’t odd for Steelers players to be seen sitting courtside. Until sincerely recently, The Pete was still sketch comparisons to Duke’s famously antagonistic Cameron Indoor Stadium. Pitt mostly didn’t attract a best high propagandize prospects in a country, yet it kept removing players who fit a efficient, defense-minded system. Pitt won a lot of games. Pitt was fun.
And afterwards it wasn’t. Pitt finished this deteriorate with 19 uninterrupted defeats, and it went 0-19 in a ACC, including a season-ending detriment to Notre Dame on Tuesday in a initial turn of a ACC tournament. The Panthers are a only Division we program not to win a diversion in discussion play this year.
I wish to uncover we a play. Just one. It happened 11 days ago, during a finish of a initial half of a home diversion opposite No. 1 Virginia. Pitt was down by 23, had scored usually 7 points, and was holding a turn for a final shot. That possession finished with Pitt’s large man, his feet planted somewhere nearby Shadyside, chucking a chunk of petrify in a instruction of a light fixture.
That right there is a vital college basketball module in a Power 5 discussion looking some-more like a youth high organisation that can’t wait for a postgame ice cream cone. How did this happen? And can Pitt ever recover?
I didn’t go to Pitt, yet I’ve secure for a Panthers my whole life. My father went there, and so did both of my brothers. we grew adult a few miles away, and we attended category propagandize and high propagandize usually a few blocks down Fifth Avenue. We were regulars during Pitt football games, and even yet Pitt hoops was always a worse ticket, we’d get to Fitzgerald Field House occasionally, and we desired a place. we came of age in a 1980s, when Pitt and a Big East were a best uncover in sports: the brawls, a personalities, a discussion contest during Madison Square Garden where even a early turn games packaged a energy of a prizefight.
I picked Pitt’s diversion opposite Wake on Feb. 21 given it felt like a ideal event to soak in a yawn that now grips a whole program. Screw removing a credential; we wanted to lay in a stands with my cousins, dual brothers named Pat and Dennis McDaniel, and Pat’s friend, John Enright. A Pitt Law grad, Pat has been a season-ticket hilt given 1982, a year Pitt started personification in a Big East. He told me a story about sitting nearby a basket that initial year or so as Villanova’s Dwayne McClain delivered a inhuman up-and-under asperse right in front of him, a arrange of big-time pierce one typically didn’t see in Pitt’s former league, a Eastern 8. “We’re in a Big East!” Pat remembered meditative during that moment.
My father died 4 years ago. Any childish unrestrained for Pittsburgh sports that still infects my siblings, my cousins, and me is mostly due to my aged man’s influence. Pat’s son Joe went to Pitt and also loves a Panthers. Pat’s companion Enright, a few years younger, was a editor-in-chief of Pitt’s tyro journal behind in a day. The night Jerome Lane murdered a backboard, Enright was doing stats for ESPN on interest of a jaunty department. When “Send it in, Jerome!” came acrobatics out of Bill Raftery’s mouth, Enright was sitting right subsequent to him.
Enright’s a kind of Pitt fan who frequently DMs reporters to ask questions or to offer his thoughts. He has an comprehensive memory on a topics of Pitt football and basketball, and he’ll mostly peppers conversations with pointless asides. “I was out during Oklahoma for a diversion there a integrate days before Lane pennyless a backboard,” he told me during one point. “We mislaid like 86-83.” Yes, Enright was pursuit adult a diversion from 30 years ago, and he managed to spike both the date and a score. Yes, Enright attended any Pitt home diversion this season.
After a good run in a late 1980s, during a Big East’s heyday, Pitt hoops cooled off for many of a ’90s, during one indicate blank a contest 8 true times. That altered in 2000-01, Ben Howland’s second deteriorate as conduct coach, when a Panthers finished a run to a final of a Big East contest for a initial time. The subsequent year, they would moment a AP tip 10. Howland twice guided Pitt to a Sweet 16 before bolting for UCLA, with Jamie Dixon—his tip assistant—taking over. Very small would change over a subsequent 13 years—including Pitt’s inability to strech a Final Four.
For all a relations success this century, Pitt hoops roughly always underachieved in a tournament, advancing as distant as a Elite Eight usually once. Most any Pitt fan can cite, territory and verse, a NCAA disappointments over a years: Kent State, Dwyane Wade’s burst stop, Oklahoma State, Bradley, Scottie Fucking Reynolds, Jordan Crawford, a foolish finale to that stupid Butler game. Hell, strech behind as distant as 1988 and there’s Barry Goheen. All of this put combined vigour on Dixon as time wore on, and a burst to a ACC usually ratcheted all up.
Dixon and his staff used a Big East to their advantage by mostly recruiting players from New Jersey, Philadelphia, and generally New York City. The vicinity was one draw. The possibility to play in a discussion contest during MSG was another, and in a 8 years from 2001-08, Pitt reached a Big East pretension diversion 7 times. Pat and Enright roughly always finished a trip.
The pierce to a ACC 5 years ago, that Pitt finished with Syracuse, was finished to pursue a many some-more remunerative revenues offering in football, during a time when realignment was totally reshaping a college sports landscape. But a welfare ripped Pitt hoops from a roots.
“The change in joining does have an outcome given it’s not as easy to partisan a Northeast anymore,” ESPN researcher Jay Bilas told me. “I’m not certain that generally—and, again, [I’m] observant generally—that all those players are utterly as dismissed adult to play Clemson or Wake Forest, as they were to play Villanova. But things change, and that’s a approach it goes. And they chased a money.”
(Let us postponement here to note that while a Old Big East is mostly remembered with nostalgia as a pitch of a some-more trusting time, a joining was in fact a selling origination designed to daub into a possibilities of a recent height famous as wire television. Its dissection was unequivocally a logical conclusion of owner and initial commissioner Dave Gavitt’s vision.**)
Recruiting got gradually worse. By Dixon’s final season, he was rounding out his category with connoisseur transfers from Brown, Richmond, and Coppin State. Pitt fans mostly seemed to be divided between those who noticed Dixon as an underachiever and those who appreciated a program’s consistency. In a past, Pitt had honeyed a pot to keep Dixon, yet by a time TCU, his alma mater, came pursuit in a early months of 2016, Pitt instead negotiated a smaller buyout.
The Pitt pursuit was an appealing one, yet there was near-universal snub when a propagandize hired Stallings, a longtime former Vanderbilt conduct coach. Stallings had usually medium success during Vandy, that was one thing, yet his sinecure also concerned murky circumstances: Athletic executive Scott Barnes had used a hunt organisation whose trainer was both Barnes’s former trainer and a ex-athletic executive who had hired Stallings during Vandy. And during his time during Vandy, Stallings once tried to block Western Pennsylvania local Sheldon Jeter from transferring home to Pitt.
From a beginning, a knives were out. Even Stallings’s rudimentary press conference—what should have been a celebratory affair—turned into an inquisition, right from a initial question:
Craig Meyer, a Pitt hoops kick author for a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, told me he “felt bad for Kevin” that day. “All he did was take a pursuit that he was offered. It was some-more so a AD,” Meyer said. Barnes would leave for Oregon State usually 9 months later; he spent a sum of 18 months during Pitt. Among certain segments of a fan base, there’s a conspiratorial opinion toward Barnes’s tenure, as yet he were a plant from an aged opposition like West Virginia or Penn State sent to mutilate a Pitt hoops program. The thought is ridiculous, yet given how bad things have gotten, it also has a bizarre atmosphere of plausibility to it.
Kevin Stallings got off to an excellent start in 2016 by winning 12 of his initial 15 games, including an dissapoint of then-No. 11 Virginia. That was a high point.
The Panthers stumbled to a 16-17 finish, a underside a 106-51 home detriment to Louisville. That one drew a rage of former Pitt good Levance Fields, who vented his disappointment on Twitter by voicing his welfare for Brandin Knight, another Pitt fable and longtime Dixon partner now on a staff during Rutgers:
Stallings also plainly criticized his players, that combined some apparent tension. One example: “We have an comparison organisation that is infrequently happy to strike that journey control symbol when they consider they can instead of gripping a stifle down and perplexing to put somebody out of their misery.” Another, in anxiety to a team’s leadership, from a same postgame presser: “I wouldn’t call it great. we consider it has gotten better. It’s a work in progress. we talked to them a small bit after a diversion tonight. we consider they like any other usually excellent off a justice and even on a court, yet there’s another turn of chemistry and togetherness we need to get this organisation to achieve.”
This kind of fairness finished for good copy, yet it didn’t ring with Stallings’s players. Five wound adult transferring out, and another was kicked off a team. Pitt began this season with 11 new players, including 7 freshmen, and no returning starters. Then came a early Jan detriment of energy brazen Ryan Luther—Pitt’s sole frontcourt actor with any experience, even if he’ll never remind anyone of DeJuan Blair—to a season-ending feet injury. Stallings hadn’t accurately filled a blank with a resources of ACC-caliber talent, and strangely, he seemed to be confident with that.
“We could have attempted to quick-fix it and make it a improved organisation this year yet not have any ability to means success,” Stallings told ESPN final month, a criticism I’m still perplexing to process. He never explained since a overpass plan that enclosed connoisseur or youth college transfers competence have been unwise, generally given how catastrophic a formula have been.
Pitt mislaid during home to Montana. Boston College came to city lugging a 23-game ACC highway losing streak; a Eagles left with a 23-point win in that Pitt finished with usually two descent rebounds, that ought to be impossible. The Panthers’ best win came opposite Duquesne.
Stallings has tried to “accentuate a positive,” as he put it. But behind in January, when asked to give an example, he cited a fact that Pitt had usually 4 turnovers in a second half opposite Duke—a diversion a Panthers mislaid by 27.
There are positives to be found. Somehow, according to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, Pitt isn’t a misfortune Power 5 organisation of all time, or even a misfortune this season. That eminence belongs to California.
“The Bears have dual discussion wins yet in a joining significantly worse than a ACC,” Pomeroy told me around email.
Congratulations, Pitt. Quantitatively speaking, you’re not a worst.
During a dual days we spent in Pittsburgh, we listened unconditionally unconfirmed rumors suggesting Pitt was indeed formulation to glow Stallings, and that one or some-more players would send if Stallings were retained. Publicly, AD Heather Lyke has pronounced usually that she will evaluate a situation after a season. But it’s not as elementary as pulling a plug. Stallings’s understanding reportedly includes a $10 million buyout—remember, amateurism is a pole for everybody yet a players—and there have been conflicting reports about either Pitt is deliberation perplexing to discount that series down. Between a buyout and whatever it will cost to land a subsequent coach, Pitt stands to bombard out a lot of money. Then there’s a apparent doubt that will approximate a subsequent hire, whoever it competence be.
“If we wish to make a change,” Bilas asked me, “at what cost are we peaceful to do that?”
As Craig Meyer wrote this week, it’s rare for a college manager during a vital module not to be given during slightest 3 seasons before removing shitcanned. Billy Gillispie’s two-year run during Kentucky from 2007-09 was a many notable example. But, many like a Gillispie-Kentucky mess, a Stallings epoch competence already be over hope. “I think,” Meyer told me, “there’s too many operative opposite him.”
The night of a Wake game, my cousins, Enright, and we were means to lay wherever we wanted, so we parked ourselves in a reduce turn along a free-throw line, a few rows behind a Oakland Zoo, Pitt’s famously unruly tyro section. There was a decent tyro turnout—their tickets are discounted—but a Zoo mostly spent a dusk going by a motions. The central assemblage was listed as 2,420 (capacity is some-more than 12,000), yet there competence have been about 1,000 people in a building. Most seemed to be dead-enders like Pat and Enright.
I asked Enright since he still bothers. He pronounced that with a football organisation no longer personification on campus, a basketball games offer a possibility to get behind here, where there are some beguiling bars and restaurants to strike both before and after a game. Also: “They’ve built adult a lot of goodwill given they were so good for a final 15 years,” Enright said.
Stallings’s strength is ostensible to be his ability to manager offense, yet if he can do that, we didn’t see it that night. Pitt likes to launch threes, like a lot of teams these days, yet it had several security in that it simply ball-screened aimlessly along a fringe before rushing a shot or saying a shot time run out. Down by 3 with 27 seconds left, Pitt held a mangle when Wake was whistled for a tainted after a defensive rebound. After beginner Shamiel Stevenson missed his initial giveaway throw, I’m certain not every chairman in a building slapped a chair in front of him in frustration, yet it really seemed that way. One territory over, we swear we listened someone scream “I can’t take it anymore!”
Pitt’s final possession finished with a missed dunk. At that point, flattering many everybody reached for their coats and headed for a exits. “I have friends who giggle and ask since we still go,” Enright told me as we filed out. With everybody withdrawal during once, a confluence suddenly, finally seemed to be filled with people. “I’m not going to give adult on them,” Enright added. We finished a approach downstairs. One of a dual escalators was broken.