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ACC Preview #13 - Pitt

Can the Panthers bounce back?

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Oct 28, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers coach Jamie Dixon during ACC media day at The Ritz-Carlton.
Oct 28, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers coach Jamie Dixon during ACC media day at The Ritz-Carlton.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When the ACC Anschluss of the Big East happened, there was a sense that a) Duke and UNC would no longer rule the ACC, or at least not so thoroughly, and that b) the Big East refugees would remake ACC basketball.

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Neither has really worked out the way people expected.

Duke won the national title last year; UNC is favored this year.

Louisville and Syracuse, the best of the Big East powers, are both enmeshed in scandal. Jim Boeheim is on the clock now.

Notre Dame has had one very bad year and one outstanding year in the ACC.

Miami made an astute hire in Jim Larranaga, but he’s still struggling to build a consistent roster.

Virginia Tech at least had an identity with Seth Greenberg, but the Hokies have made minimal progress.

Boston College has cratered since firing Al Skinner.

And then there’s Pitt. The Panthers have won, give them that. In its first ACC tour, Pitt finished 26-10; last year the record was 19-15.

That’s a total record of 45-25, which averages out to 22.5-12.5.

Not bad, right? Well…in 2013-14 Pitt started out 16-1 and played with a bit of swagger, too.

Those 16, though, included Savannah State, Fresno State, Howard, Lehigh, Texas Tech, Stanford, Duquesne, Penn State, Loyola Marymount, Youngstown State, Cincinnati, Cal Poly and Albany.

Of those, Stanford and Cincinnati are the only real challenges although Fresno is at times good.

And last year, Pitt scheduled Niagara, Samford, played Hawaii, Chaminade, San Diego State and Kansas State in the Maui Classic, Indiana, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, Manhattan, Oakland, Holy Cross and Florida Gulf Coast.

In the non-conference part of the schedule, Pitt managed to lose to Hawaii, San Diego State (no shame there) and Indiana.

Keep in mind that the Big Ten opponents – Penn State and IU – were mandated games as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

This is a cruel thing ot say, but coach Jamie Dixon schedules almost exactly like former State coach Herb Sendek.

In fairness, last year star Durand Johnson was suspended for the season and Cameron Wright dealt with injury.

Even so, Pitt was erratic. ¬¬

Whatever happened with Johnson, he’s gone and so is Wright.

Pitt does return James Robinson, who was a solid point guard. And Cameron Johnson still intrigues as a 6-7 guy with point guard skills (he redshirted last year).

Juniors Sheldon Jeter (6-8/225), Michael Young (6-9/235), Chris Jones (6-6/213) and Jamel Artis (6-7/220) return, as does sophomore Ryan Luther (6-9/215).

Two true freshmen arrive Ryan Seelve (6-6/225) and Damon Wilson (6-5/200).

Where Pitt is totally unpredictable though is with transfers.

Dixon brings in two JUCOs, 6-2 Jonathan Milligan and 6-11/300 lb. Rozelle Nix.

He also landed three grad student transfers: Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (6-9/235) from Richmond, Sterling Smith (6-4/185) from Coppin State and Rafael Maia (6-9/245) from Brazil by way of Maine Central Institute and Brown.

Pitt now has five guys 6-9 or taller and only three who are under 6-4.

It’s a really big team, and Dixon likes his rebounders.

He also likes defense, which has been the backbone of his program.

He should have a solid backcourt and if at least one of the big guys is reliable, he might have a reasonable defense. But here’s the problem for Pitt, and it doesn’t look likely to go away any time soon.

The Panthers can pad the schedule and get 10-12 wins a year. In the Big East, they could pad that with more wins over the likes of Rutgers, Seton Hall, DePaul and South Florida.

Now Pitt has to deal with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, and the thing about ACC teams is that even the worst team in any given year thinks it can compete.

Look at Duke’s schedule last year: Wake gave Duke an eight point game. NC State upset Duke in Raleigh. Georgia Tech was just a six-point win – in Cameron. Florida State lost to the Blue Devils 73-70. Virginia Tech took Duke to overtime.

Same for Virginia: Miami took UVa to double overtime. Virginia Tech lost by just three, NC State by just four and Wake Forest by one skinny point when the Deacs couldn’t manage the end game.

It’s not at all like the Big East, a realization which may have settled in by now.

The old Big East was top heavy and brutal but everyone could pad their record in conference.

That doesn’t work here. In the ACC, you have to bring it every night and Pitt didn’t do that last season.

We’re not sure what to expect from Pitt – there are way too many variables to have much certainty - but this team could make the ACC race interesting.