Pittsburgh’s ACC Slump: Where Does It End?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2017

Just one short month ago, Pittsburgh was coming off an overtime win over Virginia that evened its ACC record at 1-1. Since then, the Panthers have dropped eight straight contests to take a position of solidarity at the bottom of the conference standings. The fact that Pitt’s last two defeats were highly competitive affairs only enhances the sting as North Carolina and Duke beat the Panthers by a combined margin of only 10 points. Considering the team’s good work in the non-conference portion of its schedule — a defeat of Maryland on the road, as well as a win over Marquette on a neutral floor — Kevin Stallings’ squad has been among the most disappointing teams in the nation since the new year. Is there any hope going forward?

Kevin Stallings still believes in his Pittsburgh squad despite eight straight defeats.
(Joshua Lindsey – USA TODAY Sports)

Former head coach Jamie Dixon put together a strong 13 years at the helm after his predecessor Ben Howland had re-established the program in the early 2000s. Despite making 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament over that span, a clear downward trajectory that included two NCAA misses in the last five years led to a move to his alma mater, TCU, last offseason. Pittsburgh raised some eyebrows by hiring longtime Vanderbilt head coach Stallings to replace him, but he inherited some experienced talent in senior forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis — currently the ACC’s top two scorers. The issues that he has struggled with is that there is no true point guard on the roster — at least one good enough to compete at an ACC-quality level — and the Panthers have the ACC’s toughest conference schedule, including two games each with heavyweights North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Syracuse.

Although Pitt’s postseason aspirations appear bleak, the Panthers do not look like a team that has packed it in yet. After the loss at Duke on Saturday, Stallings remarked, “I still have good feelings about my team. They competed. They competed really hard.” He also added, “I told our team that I think we are a heck of a lot better team than we were a couple of weeks ago.” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski also praised the Panthers, saying, “We felt we beat a really good basketball team today.” It remains to be seen if that improvement will translate in to wins but it could happen soon. According to KenPom’s predictive model, Pittsburgh is favored to win its next three games — at Boston College, followed by home tilts with Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Given the depth and quality of the league this season, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Panthers to prove themselves worthy of some sort of postseason play.

Beyond this season, it becomes less clear where Pittsburgh is headed. Stallings will lose four foundational seniors who currently account for 70 percent of the team’s scoring, leaving wing Cameron Johnson as the only proven offensive threat returning next season. Stallings is bringing in five three-star recruits — including two point guards — and will hopefully have Crisshawn Clark available, but ACC talent typically runs in the five- and four-star level, and Pittsburgh hasn’t made waves in recruiting for some time. To avoid a really rough 2017-18 campaign, some of those three-star freshmen must outplay their rankings — think about players like Josh Okogie at Georgia Tech and Ky Bowman at Boston College. Otherwise, it’s hard to envision Pittsburgh rising from the bottom tier of the ACC for some time.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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