Come on, the headline just wrote itself.
One of the big surprises this year has been the lack of production of the Pittsburgh Panthers (15-14, 4-12 Big East). The Panthers were once 11-1, and despite a home loss to Long Beach State, thought of as an NCAA lock. But the Panthers have lost 7 games at home in what used to be an imposing Petersen Events Center, and have had a 7 game losing streak in conference before the current 5 game losing streak.
The players who should have emerged did not stamp their names on the Big East with grit and fire. Despite the slicked hair and crouched yelling of Jamie Dixon, the star struggled to carry the team. And an injury to their point guard exposed what seemed to be a roster of replaceable parts ready to rise as a squad that lacked depth at all positions.
Why did this happen? Pitt's one-year fall is one of the biggest surprises in college basketball.
For some insight, I reached out to Anson at Cardiac Hill for answers (and answered some of his questions on the Johnnies, to soon be posted).
On youth, Panther big men, and who on the Panthers' roster can develop into a player who can bring back the physical and effective Pitt team we all know (before the program becomes part of ACC country), below the fold.
Q - The Panthers are weaker on both sides of the ball, and no one could have seen this coming. What happened to Pitt this year and why? (In short form.)
Man, I don't know. My excuse du jour is that the team is just really young. The bench consists almost entirely of underclassmen and several freshmen have been playing key roles this season. The Tray Woodall injury hurt and the more you watch him, the more it's become evident that he's still not fully healthy.
On offense, the team hasn't gotten the easy shots they've lived off of on the past decade and on defense, the frontcourt needs to be more aggressive. It also doesn't help when a senior like Ashton Gibbs just isn't very good defensively, either, since he's often matched up against good guards.
There are other reasons, of course. There's no one in the middle to clog the lane, Khem Birch's departure kind of threw things out of whack, and Gibbs suddenly has forgotten how to shoot. It's a myriad of things, really.
Q- For good and bad, tell us what Ashton Gibbs' senior year has taught us about him and his game.
I think we've learned that he's not really capable of carrying a team. He thrived last year with Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Gary McGhee around. The weird thing is that he was still the best player on that team, but without those guys to help out, he's incapable of leading a squad himself. That may change as his career continues on, but for now, he's just not there yet.
The other thing that's disheartening is that he's really not gotten better defensively. Quicker guards have little problem getting by him and when you see him contributing less offensively, he's really become somewhat of a liability on occasion. He's had breakout nights due to his talent, but has been kept in check far too much this year.
Q- What does Pitt have to do to win Wednesday's game? What mistakes could they make to lose the game?
The two things they've struggled the most with this year are shooting the ball and turning it over. Pitt's repeatedly shot under 40% as a team and turned the ball over well into double digits so much this year. That's a recipe for disaster for almost any team, but for a team that's not explosive offensively like Pitt, it makes it even harder to win. If Pitt is sloppy with the ball, they'll have a had time winning.
Dante Taylor really just isn't very good. He's more of a role player than a leader and while he's capable of contributing a bit off the bench on occasion, he's not someone that will go out and get their own shot. He is a solid rebounder but just not a great player.
The other big guys are all young. Zanna is only a sophomore and the backup center, Malcolm Gilbert, is a true freshman. Zanna's actually been more aggressive than Taylor, which has led to him getting the starts recently, but he's still pretty raw offensively.
Simply put, of the three, none are particularly good players or very aggressive most of the time. I think Gilbert will turn into a player, but he's got a ways to go. Losing Birch really hurt, because his departure forced Dixon to play Gilbert, who was planning on taking a redshirt.
Q- JJ Moore has had a string of strong offensive games. How does he - and the Panther youth - fit into the future?
Moore is extremely athletic, but has been a big disappointment this season. Too often he's settled for jump shots instead of driving to the basket. He does have a decent touch, but has been off this year. He's really an enigma and is a big key to how the team does next year. He won't be the best player on the team, but Pitt needs to get something out of him offensively - especially with the losses of Gibbs and Nasir Robinson. He'll have a chance to contribute, but if he doesn't, Lamar Patterson will continue taking his minutes.
The freshmen currently on the team haven't shown enough yet to be able to make it easy to see who's got a bright future. Guard John Johnson has played well at times and as I said before, I think Gilbert will be a player. Those two have the early lead as to who will factor in the rotation down the road. But the other freshmen, Durand Johnson, Cameron Wright, and Isaiah Epps, are still question marks.
The sophomores are starting to blossom a little. Patterson is looking like a very good player and Zanna has improved. The 2012 class is really the one fans are really watching, though. Steven Adams is a top five player in the nation and has a good chance to be an NBA Lottery Pick.
Point guard James Robinson has seen his stock go up and he's turned into a four-star recruit. But Adams in particular could be a one and done player and, thus, wouldn't factor in a whole lot down the road.
The bottom line is that Pitt has some promising young talent, but it's going to take a while to sort through it and for those guys to grow and become contributors.