After their loss to Connecticut today, we are starting to hear the usual talk about Pitt choking in the NCAA tournament and their inability to get to the Final Four. While the loss today was a downer, as it is their third consecutive year losing their first game in the Big East tournament, it isn’t reason to think Pitt is going to fail in the NCAA tournament. With, in my opinion, the deepest Pitt team in the Jamie Dixon era, is this the year that they can finally play their way into a Final Four appearance or, better yet, a championship game? A lot of skeptical fans won’t get their hopes up until the Panthers can prove them wrong. It’s been 70 years since Pitt last made the Final Four, so fans have a reason to be leery. Each year that Pitt bows out early in March, two things are said without fail: 1) Dixon won’t be an elite coach until he can win a championship, and 2) Pitt doesn’t have that go-to scorer that they need when the game is on the line.
Being that Pitt is in the Big East, let’s look at two of the most respected and best coaches in college basketball, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. For years and years, both of these men have been considered to be elite coaches and hall-of-famers. When people talk about Dixon, they think he is a very good coach, but not on the elite level yet because he doesn’t have a championship. Sure, a title would raise him to that level, but he has only been a head coach for eight years to this point. Jim Boeheim took over Syracuse in 1976 and has been to 3 national title games. It took him 11 years to make it to his first, and then nine more to get to his second. After losing the first two to Indiana and Kentucky, Boeheim was finally able to win his first national title in 2003 – in his 27th year as head coach – as the Orange defeated Kansas.
As for Calhoun, he took over Connecticut in 1986 after spending 14 years at Northwestern. He made his first national title appearance 13 years later, in 1999, and won it as the Huskies beat the Duke Blue Devils 77-74. I wasn’t a math major, but by my calculation, it also took Calhoun 27 years to appear in and win his first championship. If we hold it against Dixon for not being an elite coach because he doesn’t have a championship after eight years, then why do these guys get the praise when they didn’t either? Remember, Dixon won his 214th game in early March, more than any coach in his first eight years of coaching. Boeheim and Calhoun deserve all the praise that they get, but Dixon shouldn’t be kept from the conversation when discussing elite coaches just due to a lack of a championship.
If Pitt falls short of a championship game, or even Final Four appearance again this year, is it time for Coach Dixon to change his philosophy and go after the big-time recruits who will provide the flash, and shy away from the team-ball style that Pitt plays? In recent years, only Chris Taft comes to mind as a me-first sort of player that came to Pitt, as he played one season and then bolted for the NBA draft (how did that work out for him?). Besides him, Pitt has had during the Dixon era, only players that believe in unselfish basketball and winning as a team. The argument can be made that having the high school All-Americans will make the team better. Greg Oden, John Wall, Derek Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are just a few of the players that stayed for one year before leaving for the NBA. Should Pitt go after more of the best players in high school or continue the recruiting strategy that Dixon has instilled? This year, Pitt has Sophomore Dante Taylor who was an All-American coming out of high school, but has under-performed greatly. Pitt has three top recruits in Durand Johnson, Malcolm Gilbert and Jaylen Bond for next year, as well.
The problem with having that one superstar player that your team counts on is that it’s a one-time shot to win. Look at Ohio State with Oden. They had Mike Conley as a sidekick to him, but when they lost the championship game to Florida that year, both Oden and Conley bolted for the NBA. Ohio State was set back a couple years as they had to build up the recruiting to find the next star players, and when they did, they would leave early, too (Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger). Although Pitt hasn’t made the Final Four or title game, the way that they play allows them to be consistent and have a chance each and every season. I’ll take that over a greater chance only once every four or five years, any day.
With the depleted field this year in college basketball, this just may be the best chance for Pitt to make it to Houston and the Final Four and silence the critics once and for all.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com