We Are Nowhere and It's Now

It has been said (after many a terrible loss) that following The University of Pittsburgh Fightin' Panthers is akin to being in an abusive relationship: You think they've changed their ways, you think that this time is different, and then you're beaten down once again. For the better part of a decade this has been the case with both the Football and the Men's Basketball teams.

After yet another loss in the Round of 16, Pitt fans have been left to wonder if this program - that started with this current run of Top 25 seasons in 2001-2002 - will ever get over the proverbial hump. The Panthers had to watch as their former coach, Ben Howland, lead UCLA to the team's second consecutive Final Four. Howland built the Pitt program into a perennial "contender", but how can said program contend without ever winning a big game.

Pitt has made it to the Big East Tournament Championship game 6 of the last 7 years, with only one Tournament Championship to show for it. Pitt has made it to the Sweet Sixteen 4 of the last 6 years, with the school's only Elite Eight appearance coming way back in 1974. Looking at what the team has accomplished over the last several years, one begins to wonder when - or even if - the program will make that leap into True Contender.

The problem, it seems, is that coaching can only take a team so far. Pitt has been notorious for coaching up players overlooked by other college programs and building around the idea of a 'team' rather than lumping together a handful of McDonald's High-School All-Americans. The program has scoured the high schools of New York; stealing solid recruits away from the likes of St. Joe's. They have taken in transfers from other programs and found a place for junior college standouts to play. But in the modern world of NCAA Basketball, these types of players can only take a team so far.

As of this moment there is not one player in the NBA that played under the Howland/Dixon regime at The University of Pittsburgh. That says something not only about the players that come out of the program, but also the coaching staff. It is not to say that these player aren't NBA ready, it's just that these players aren't NBA material.

Over the years Pitt has had a number of players that could hit the big shots. They have had guys that could play lock-down D and hold the highest scoring teams to fewer than 55. There have been plenty of buzzer beater victories and big runs in close games from one or two guys. But this program has never had a transcendent player. A player who can carry an entire team on his back if he needs to. A player that can make a seemingly impossible play in the clutch. A player that can simply will a team to win. Without someone like that it becomes nearly impossible to win a championship.

The team concept has worked great for the Panthers in the regular season. Over the last seven seasons only a handful of programs have had a better record than Pitt. They've been that good. But when everything is on the line in the post-season the Pitt program has struggled. Rarely has anyone stepped up for that stretch run (in the Big East Tournament or the NCAAs) and become The Man. And that is just what this programs needs.

For The University of Pittsburgh Fightin' Panthers to break through to the other side and deserve mention alongside of The Perennial Top Tens they need a marquee player. They need someone to put his stamp on the program, not only to lead the team onward, but to also draw attention towards the school.

As it is, Pitt is a faceless program known for their defensive prowess but not for a standout player. This current run of solid seasons has made it somewhat easier to recruit better and better players, but the true stars are going elsewhere. For Pitt to take it to the next level they need that one star to truly put the team on the map.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. Star players are always going to go to star programs and a defensive, team-oriented style of play will always be a hard sell to the top recruits. But for this program to truly thrive, a "franchise" player is a necessity not only to win a big game, but also for The University of Pittsburgh Fightin' Panthers to finally reach the next level.

4 Responses to “We Are Nowhere and It's Now”

  1. # Blogger Jason Cramer

    I hate to say it but if you want big time recruits you have to bend over for them. Big time players are going to want to run the show and our team mentality doesn't lend itself to that.

    The Mayo's and Oden's of the world are what college basketball is becoming. Look at what Oden brought Ohio State when he committed, himself and Mike Conley Jr. OJ is bring a couple of his AAU boys. Blockbuster freshman classes, with the NBA age-restriction, is the wave of the future.

    I'm making a prediction; if the NBA age limit stays intact we will see another fab 5 in 5 years at the latest. Also I predict that a team will have its national title pulled for paying players.  

  2. # Blogger Maximis

    ...And that, in reference to his prior post, Jason Cramer will become Michigan's head coach and lead that Fab 5 to a championship.  

  3. # Blogger Brendan

    1. The NBA will adjust. After KG and Kobe, too many kids were making the jump to the NBA from highschool and failing terribly (KANDI MAN!), eventually the NBA adjusted by not picking those kids, and kids started to go to school. The same thing will happen here, more kids jumping after one yet. The NBA will adjust, kids will stay if they need to. There won't be Odens and Durants ever year.

    2. The Fab 5 won nothing. Ever. The more big time players there are on a team, the more one player won't be able to shine. A lot of guys won't put up with that. They're going to college because they have to (if that's the case) and they're looking to be the man. You want to be the center of attention not an argument over which guy on the team is the No. 1 pick.  

  4. # Blogger Jason Cramer

    Oh I'm not saying that this new fab 5 would win a title. What I'm saying is that 4 or 5 five star recruits are going to get together and build a crazy team. Every player in the Fab 5 was drafted and 3 were drafted rather highly. A couple of smart lower end 4 or 5 star prospects are going to link up with a big recruiting class.

    I really believe that Ohio State is going to win the National Title. Without Conley, Oden coming in wouldn't have made such an impact. Conley was recruited by Oden, not so much Thad Motta. In the next few years one Conley is going to become 2 or 3 then you have four starting freshmen. I don't think its hard to believe that a coach would hand over a program to a blockbuster freshmen class. These new teams to me are what college basketball is going to be about.

    No way am I also suggesting that there will be an Oden or Durant in every freshmen class. But I guarentee you there will be players as good Ty Lawson, Brandon Wright, Mike Conley Jr, and DJ Augustine.

    A few illegal payments and an agressive recruiting strategy and you have a superb 5 man freshman class.  

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