NCAA Basketball: What Does Pitt Have To Do To Approach Duke’s Level?


Feb 21, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon reacts to a call while on the sidelines against the Syracuse Orange during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s NCAA Tournament was one of the most exciting basketball tournaments that I could remember.  The heavyweights held their ground, sending the Cinderella teams to the couches.

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We witnessed three Number 1 seeds make it to the Final Four in Indianapolis, as only Villanova was upset in the Third Round in Pittsburgh.  That elimination made me pretty happy, as I reminisce about the 2009 Elite Eight.

Kentucky steamrolled early opponents, smashing WVU in historic fashion, and then squeaking past a red-hot Notre Dame squad that had won the ACC Tournament.  The Wildcats were chasing history, entering Indianapolis with a perfect 38-0 record with two games to go.

In their way stood Wisconsin, an experienced Big Ten Champion looking for revenge from last year’s 1-point loss to Kentucky to get to the Finals.

And they got their revenge.  The Kentucky/ Wisconsin game was one of the best games I had seen in a long time.  I love the Cinderella stories, but watching two heavyweights is great entertainment.

On the other side, Michigan State took advantage of a weak East bracket, but hit reality against Duke in a 20-point loss.

The Wisconsin/ Duke game was probably the second best game I had seen in a while.  Yes, the officiating was sketchy for much of the tournament, but it still didn’t ruin the talent that we witnessed.

Coach K won his 5th National Championship, as the media claimed he has adjusted to the times where “one-and-done” talent is critical to a team’s success.

I do find it strange that John Calipari receives criticism from many, as he annually loads up on talented, soon-to-be NBA first round lottery picks, but Coach K does not.

I could be wrong, but I think Duke had 8 or 9 All-Americans on its roster last night.  I don’t think that Wisconsin had any.

The Badgers were heavily experienced, led by 7-foot senior center Frank Kaminsky, the NCAA player of the year, as well as redshirt senior guard Josh Gasser, and 6-foot-9  junior forward Sam Dekker, who emerged in the NCAA Tournament as one of the best players in the league.

I was cheering for the team with experience (because this would likely be the way Pitt finds itself in a Final Four), but they came up short against the Duke freshmen foursome of All-Americans.  It is possible that Okafor, Winslow, and Tyus Jones will all declare for the draft after their first year.  This is similar to the past Kentucky powerhouses.  Coach K has certainly adapted, despite falling in the first round last year to Mercer, with first-round pick Jabari Parker.

Which leads me to my million-dollar question: Do my beloved Pitt Panthers have a chance?

As for my answer, I believe they have a chance, but many pieces will have to fall into place.

If Dixon cannot land some one-and-done All-Americans, he is certainly going to need a team with experience like Wisconsin.  I still don’t think that is enough.  My fingers are crossed that Pitt can land Cheik Diallo and maintain Mustapha Heron.

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  • The difference with the current Pitt team is, 1) they lack an impact center like Kaminsky, Okafor, or  Cauley-Stein, 2) they lack a pure scorer like Dekker, the Harrison twins, or Winslow, and 3) their defensive effort is suspect.

    The beauty of basketball is that these issues could quickly be addressed.  Pitt returns essentially its entire team, and the loss of Cameron Wright shouldn’t affect this team at all.  With a core of juniors, this is a good start.  I think 6-foot-8 forward Jamel Artis could emerge as a go-to scorer, and I think the return of 6-foot-7 forward/ guard Durand Johnson could give Pitt a playmaker similar to Sam Dekker.

    Center is the questionable spot.  Massive 7-foot, 320-pound junior center Rozelle Nix is coming in from Florida, and he could make an impact, but it is not guaranteed at this point.

    The most important piece is the possibility of landing the McDonald’s All-American center Cheik Diallo, who may make his decision in mid-April.  He will decide between Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa State, Pitt, and St. Johns.

    Pitt could really use this guy next season.

    Incoming guard Damon Wilson Jr is said to be a scorer, which Pitt really needs at a point-guard position.  Then, the following season, 5-star guard Mustapha Heron will hopefully make his way to Pitt.

    I know many fans are pessimistic and can’t see Pitt making an impact in the ACC, but I think Pitt has a chance, IF some of the pieces fall their way.

    Here is the possibility of the Pitt roster.

    Next season:

    Point guard:  James Robinson/ Josh Newkirk/ Damon Wilson Jr

    Shooting guard: Durand Johnson/ Chris Jones/ Cameron Johnson

    Small forward, guard: Jamel Artis/ Sheldon Jeter

    Power forward: Michael Young/ Ryan Luther

    Center: Cheik Diallo/ Rozelle Nix (or 6-foot-11 Charlotte graduate transfer Mike Thorne)

    Many experts do not have Pitt in consideration for a top-25, but I think this team could be dangerous.  With two seniors, a plethora of juniors, and potentially a McDonald’s All-American and a 7-foot giant at center, Pitt could make some noise.

    The following season:

    Point guard:  Mustapha Heron/ Josh Newkirk/ Damon Wilson Jr

    Shooting guard: Chris Jones/ Cameron Johnson

    Small forward, guard: Jamel Artis/ Sheldon Jeter

    Power forward: Michael Young/ Ryan Luther/

    Center: Cheik Diallo/ Rozelle Nix/ Corey Manigault

    This team would only lose James Robinson and Durand Johnson (and Thorne if he commits).  Add in 5-star likely McDonald’s All-American Mustapha Heron, and keep your fingers crossed that Diallo commits next week and sticks around for two years.  All of a sudden, Pitt has a pretty dangerous team, along with experienced seniors Newkirk, Jones, Artis, Jeter, Young, and Nix.

    In order for Pitt to be successful and have a chance at playing in a Final Four, Jamie Dixon needs to have a combination of upperclassmen leadership and a few McDonald’s All-Americans.

    He didn’t have either this past season, and Scottie Reynolds continues to haunt me.

    The upcoming Diallo decision is critical for Pitt.

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