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Pat Signal: Michael Smith commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a three-star receiver from Florida

PITT IS IT! #H2P #SteelCity17— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) January 18, 2017

For the second straight day, Pitt has landed a football commitment. Michael Smith, a three-star wide receiver from Vero Beach, Florida, has decided to join the 2017 recruiting class. Jerry DiPaola of the Tribune-Review was able to crack the case of the Pat Signal first. Smith himself confirmed it moment ago.

After Talking With My Family, I Have Officially Decided To Commit To The University Of Pittsburgh #H2P #PittIsLit pic.twitter.com/ad20X6vMGB— Michael Smith (@cantguardmike11) January 18, 2017

Michael Smith is a 6’2” 200 pound wide receiver from Vero Beach, Florida. He is graded as a three-star by Rivals.com. He burst onto the recruiting scene late in the process, after a record-breaking senior season in which he caught 24 touchdown passes. In total, he hauled in 66 receptions for 1,556 yards to go along with all those touchdowns while leading Vero Beach to a 12-1 record in Florida’s highly competitive 8A classification.

By virtue of the breakout season, his recruiting profile increased significantly. He chose Pitt over offers from Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Washington State, and Indiana. Perhaps he was sold on Pitt after his official visit, where he got to meet Antonio Brown of the Steelers. His highlights show him to be a big play threat, and one that could see the field early in his career.

Smith now becomes the 21st member of the 2017 recruiting class. He is the third receiver joining fellow Floridian, Dontavius Butler and Darian Street. Smith also becomes the sixth player from Florida in the class, a noticeable emphasis in this staff’s recruiting efforts.

Today marks 14 days until signing day, and Pitt still is after a number of players. There will be two more official visit weekends before February 1, so stay tuned for more updates to sprout up over the next few weeks.

Pitt defeated by North Carolina State, 79-74

Another game, another loss, amirite?

Pitt dropped its fourth straight basketball game tonight - this time to North Carolina State on the road, 79-74.

The Panthers were again sort of a mess in the first half. The struggles, at least, didn't last the entire way through and the team did get a little hotter earlier. But the start was again a slow one as Pitt had 12 points in the first 10+ minutes before finally getting going.

That Maverick Rowan guy is getting to be even more of a pest. He had 21 points and his play in the second half was one of the things that propelled the Wolfpack to victory. Former Pitt recruit. grumble, grumble.

Aside from depth, Pitt's problems are two-fold at this point. The defense isn't good enough and the slow starts continue to plague this team. The Panthers simply are not good enough to spot teams a full 10 or 20 minutes of bad play. Even though they trailed by only one at halftime, they wasted about ten minutes when they could have built up a lead going into the break. North Carolina State wasn't all that impressive in the first half but then they started raining three-pointers in the second half, and that's your ball game. The stagnant starts are beyond frustrating at this point.

The lone encouraging thing for me tonight was seeing the return of Michael Young. Young had his best game in some time with a game-high 25 points on 9-19 shooting. The mask that seemed to hurt him so much in the Miami game was replaced with a better model and it seems to have made a world of difference. Young, too, was probably feeling a little better with some more rest. But it appears he should again be a factor for Pitt, so that's great news, obviously.

Yesterday, I wrote about Pitt's lineup options with Young injured and Ryan Luther out for a couple of weeks with an injury. Of the three options I presented, head coach Kevin Stallings went in a different direction and simply chose to run the starters as much as he possibly could. All of the starters other than Jamel Artis played over 35 minutes and Artis played 34. The bench was a complete non-factor with Justice Kithcart, Damon Wilson, and Corey Manigault playing a combined 18 minutes and registering only one shot.

I don't really mind that strategy, to be honest. Pitt's starters are by far and away the best players with Luther out so playing them as much as possible is fine by me as long as those guys aren't getting worn out. No issues there from my vantage point. I just didn't think Stallings would necessarily go in that direction. But with a close game mostly the entire time, it was also probably difficult to take those guys out.

What I just can't shake the thought that this just doesn't appear to be a desperate team. As I said in the Miami game, Pitt needed that one and they needed this one even more. The bad turnovers, the horrible perimeter defense, etc., are all things the team can't afford to be doing right now. For the life of me, I don't understand the lack of urgency. Now, when you're playing 35 plus minutes a game, you can't exactly go all out every single play. But I just would expect things to be a little tighter, cleaner. Like every possession counts. You don't really get that sense.

One thing that's been brought up quite a bit is the coaching. Many fans believe that Jamie Dixon would have this team in a better position and probably just as many aren't so sure. But a couple of coaching related things stood out to me tonight that I thought were worth a mention.

First, Kevin Stallings' approach, without a doubt, is to let his players play the game. There was a lot of talk in the offseason about Pitt's players being glad to have the shackles off, so to speak. Under Stallings, they wouldn't be afraid to make mistakes for fear of being taken out of the game, etc. That playing a freer style would ultimately make them better. Well, halfway through the season I think we can safely say that's a load of crap. Even the most ardent Dixon haters couldn't reasonably say that Dixon's style would result in worse play. Under this system, the players may feel like they have more freedom but the idea that a looser, more happy-go-lucky system would make this team thrive is just silly at this point. That's not a voice saying that Dixon's teams hadn't plateaued - they had. But I can't with a straight face pretend like this philosophy of letting guys just play is working out.

Perhaps a freer style would work better with a different group of players. But under Stallings where there is seemingly less 'structure', I simply don't see how that has benefited the team this season.

Second, one coaching thing in this game that I found curious was how Pitt approached the final minute of play. The Panthers had just finished giving up another lead and trailed by three points with a little over a minute to play. The emphasis, very clearly, should have been that the team does not need a three-point shot. Instead, Pitt seemed determined from the get go to make sure they would get a three-pointer off. Sheldon Jeter took a three-pointer that was mostly contested and it was a pretty poor shot. The very next trip down the court, still trailing by three, Jamel Artis threw up a three-pointer.

I had less of a problem with Artis' shot, but here's the thing - with about 15 seconds or so left, instead of shooting a three, they took the ball to the basket. Why not try that earlier instead? Pitt actually nearly got a break with the late turnover that gave them another chance to tie things up at the end, but that seemed like the players either weren't told not to force a shot, or they simply didn't listen. There was no reason for Pitt to rush a three-point shot, particularly in the case of Jeter's attempt.

I'll have more on this later but at this point, if Pitt wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they're either going to need a pretty deep ACC Tournament run or pull off a few big upsets to really boost their resume. Losing games against the Syracuses, Miamis, and North Carolina States of the world isn't going to do it. From here on out, Pitt cannot simply win the games they should (which, if we're being honest, I don't even know how many of those there are) and lose to the better teams. They'll need some big upsets over some very good teams to get in.

There just doesn't seem to be any hope in sight. Clemson at home? I mean, I guess. But when you see Louisville, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, and a top ten Florida State team (wut?) still on the schedule, it's hard to have too much excitement right now. The good thing for Pitt in all honesty is that they have that many quality wins still available on the schedule. But at this point, Pitt not only needs to grab a few of those but also win the games against the weaker teams.

And right now, they're not even doing that.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Signal: Jason Pinnock commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a three-star cornerback

Pinnock to Pittsburgh. ✌ #412 pic.twitter.com/VPNj7WViH6— Jason (@Jason_Pinnock) January 17, 2017

Jason Pinnock just announced via Twitter that he is committed to the University of Pittsburgh. Pinnock is a 6’1” 190 pound cornerback from Windsor, Connecticut. He is graded as a three-star by Rivals, while just a two-star by Scout, ESPN, and 24-7. Pinnock was initially a member of the Boston College recruiting class, but de-committed shortly after a Pitt offer. After visiting this past weekend, Pitt was able to close the deal.

In addition to his Pitt and Boston College offers, UConn also offered, but he was receiving high interest from Notre Dame. Many suspected a Notre Dame offer could be nearing, but Pinnock opted to shut down his recruitment today.

Pinnock is a rare recruit for Pitt from the state of Connecticut, or New England in general. Rivals calls him the 8th best player in the Constitution State. He helped lead his Windsor High School team to a 12-1 season in 2016. Pinnock led his team on offense with 59 receptions, 1,172 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Still his impact on defense was also equal or more important. He posted 7 interceptions and recovered three fumbles and displays great coverage skills in his Hudl highlights.

Pinnock now becomes the 20th recruit in the 2017 class. He joins Damarri Mathis as the second corner in the class. As we saw with this past season, Pitt really needs to add depth and talent to the position. Pinnock will have a chance at early playing time, but a redshirt seems most likely for next season.

We are now two weeks away from signing day, and Pitt still has plenty of work to do. There are two more official visit weekends coming up, and Pat Narduzzi and his staff will need to lock down 4-5 more recruits, at least.

Brawl breaks out during college basketball game in Memphis

A brawl broke out during the Lemoyne-Owen College vs. Lane College basketball game on Saturday, January 14th in Memphis, Tennessee. 

>> Read more trending stories  

 Police said no ambulances were called to the scene nor was a police report filed. 

No one was taken into custody. 

Both colleges are investigating. 

Against the Odds: NC State is the home favorite over Pitt

The line is moving in the direction of NC State for tonight’s game.

Pitt is on a losing streak and so is NC State. Both teams will come into tonight’s contest at 12-6 and 1-4 in the ACC Conference. Vegas opened the game up by giving the Wolfpack a 1.5 point advantage. The money seems to be trending towards NC State more and more as the line moved to 3.5 as of this writing. So, the odds are not in favor of Pitt being the team that snaps a losing streak this evening.

After being embarrassed at home, Pitt needs a strong effort and would like to get Michael Young and Ryan Luther healthy to make it happen. Young appears to be ready to work through it, but he has to be better than this past weekend. Luther will remain out for a little while, which clearly hurts this team.

The game will tip at 7PM tonight at PNC Arena, in Raleigh, NC. Head coach Mark Gottfried’s team puts up a lot of points and has five players averaging over double figures per game. Pitt’s defense will have to step up and score themselves. The Pack and the Panthers have each dropped four out of their last five to put themselves in this hole. Both need a win badly. Vegas is betting it will be NC State. Pitt’s fan base is already on life support. A loss here won’t help matters.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

With injuries to Michael Young and Ryan Luther, Pitt needs to make some lineup decisions

I'm still having a problem digesting the hot mess that was the Pitt-Miami fiasco this weekend. Part of the real problem for me was not only that the chance for a seemingly winnable game is gone but that the Panthers looked so abysmal without Ryan Luther and a diminished Michael Young, who clearly isn't 100%.

The bigger issue, of course, is that things go far beyond that one game. Pitt will be without Luther for a couple of weeks and Young isn't going to be 100% right away. And as head coach Kevin Stallings said afterwards, he'll be continuing to wear the mask that hampered him a bit.

In other words, things could get bumpy.

Over the long haul, the Pitt basketball roster is going to need quite a bit of reworking after this season. But in the immediate future, Pitt has limited options. That's part of the problem. The Panthers have really only gone seven deep this year and are down to somewhere around 5 1/2 right now with Luther out and Young playing hurt. Pitt, whether they want to or not, is going to have to bring some more guys into the mix.

After the game, when asked about how Pitt would compensate (specifically, it was asked if Manigault would get Luther's minutes), Stallings said they team may need to go to a smaller lineup. That got me to thinking, what kind of options does he have?

Here are some ideas as I see them:

1. Start Kithcart and/or play him more

Freshman Justice Kithcart hasn't set the world on fire, but let's be honest here - there are few options. At the very least, particularly if Pitt is going small, he is going to have to play more than the six minutes he's averaged in the past three games. Starting Kithcart (along with Johnson, Artis, Jeter, and Young) might seem odd because you're actually penalizing Chris Jones for not much of a reason. But the flipside is that you would add some experience to a paper-thin bench.

Unlike Corey Manigault, Kithcart has played quite a bit this year. He averages about 15 minutes a game and is almost always in double figures (minutes). His assist-to-turnover margin is a close second only to Cam Johnson. He's nowhere near the level of a James Robinson even in terms of just that statistic, but that's a start. As we all know, Kithcart's biggest problem is his shooting and despite all the playing time he's getting, he shoots under 33% from the field. No amount of increased time is going to fix that this year and the best hope here is that, if he plays more this season, he's more of a facilitator and works on merely taking care of the ball and finding open men. Any scenario where Kithcart is asked to score more is simply a foolhardy one.

If Kithcart were able to give Pitt 20 capable minutes a game until Luther returns, that would fix quite a bit. Is that asking a lot? Depends on what your version of 'capable' is. Ten points and five or six assists per game? Too much. Five points and four or five assists? Closer.

If you're in favor of Kithcart starting, this option potentially replaces a starter since it likely means that Jones gets bumped. While replacing a starter right now might seem sort of ridiculous, consider that it would help upgrade the bench a bit and add a little more experience there. Plus, Jones isn't exactly producing a ton as a starter, anyway. But even if you don't start Kithcart, the idea is that he's playing more here and that Artis moves into the frontcourt.

2. Making Corey Manigault a featured player

If he doesn't start, Kithcart would remain the top guard off the bench. In this scenario (and really any scenario), Manigault becomes the top big reserve. Manigault is the top reserve big man, but here, he would play more, spelling both Jeter and Young. If those guys stay out of foul trouble and Young gets back close to his former self, that might not mean more than 15 minutes. Luther himself played less than that at times, after all.

Here, Manigault is the top reserve and Pitt basically maintains the status quo. Same starters playing the same minutes and no moving around. Manigault simply fills the role of Luther. Manigault certainly has not made much of an impact this year but a big reason for that is because he's barely played, only getting on the court for more than five minutes three times this season. His low averages shouldn't be alarming simply because he's not been out there much. Now, I'm not saying he deserves to be playing more. What I am saying is that his low totals are simply a product of not playing. If he plays more, his averages would be better. And as I wrote recently, it's not as if Luther had been tearing things up lately. If Manigault plays 15 mintues a game, the dropoff might not be big as it seems compared to Luther's recent production.

3. Small Ball

As Stallings alluded to, Pitt has the chance to go small. What does that look like? In a nutshell, more of Kithcart, Wilson, and/or Milligan. Maybe on a lesser scale, something like Kithcart, Johnson, Artis, Jeter, and Young, or some combination thereof to start. Then, instead of playing Manigault off the bench much, perhaps everyone simply moves up a spot. For example, if Young needs a break, Jeter moves to center, Artis to power forward, Cam to small forward, and Jones or Milligan comes off the bench to play shooting guard. Or if Artis needs a break, same scenario - guards move up a spot.

Have two guys coming out? Say, Artis and Jeter? Outside of inserting Manigault, perhaps you go with something like Young, Cam, Jones, Milligan/Wilson, and Kithcart. Ideally, I don't see how Pitt takes two bigs out at once barring an injury or foul trouble and doesn't go with Manigault, so I'm not even sure something like this comes to fruition ... at least not for very long. But you get the picture. In a small ball scenario, Artis almost has to leave his point guard role and move somewhere like small forward to make up for the loss of Luther and a diminished Young. If you're not convinced that Door No. 2 with Manigault is a good one, there's simply no other realistic option as a big man off the bench.

Frankly, I'm less enthused about the small ball option unless you have something like Milligan getting hot from three-point range (which is possible). Pitt's backcourt bench has been a weakness all year and asking those guys to do more seems like the wrong way to go. At least with playing Kithcart more, you're limiting it to one guy instead of potentially involving all three.

Conclusion

In the end, this really all comes down to do you want to play the guards more or would you rather play Manigault more. To me, Nix isn't an option other than for maybe 4-5 minutes.

The good news is that Pitt doesn't need these new guys to come in and produce huge games. They can lean on Artis and hope Young returns closer to 100%. Cam, although he hasn't shown it lately, is able to score. What Pitt needs these guys to do is defend capably and make a few buckets. Not much more.

Obviously there can be some mixing and matching here, so Pitt isn't forced to rely only on one of these options. If two bigs exit a game, for example, you could try Manigault and one of the guards. But if you had to choose only one path above, which would it be?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.
Poll With the Luther/Young injuries, if you had only one choice, which option would you prefer? Pitt features Justice Kithcart Pitt features Corey Manigault Pitt goes small, relying on trio of Kithcart, Wilson, and Milligan   4 votes | Results

Panther of the Week: Jamel Artis

Jamel Artis put on a performance for the ages in a week most Pitt fans would like to forget

Pitt went 0-2 this past week, but Jamel Artis had a performance few will forget. It’s unfortunate that the senior guard’s top performance came in such a dismal week for the hoops team. The week started with a tremendous comeback, that fell short, against the ranked Louisville Cardinals. It ended with a thud, at home, against Miami. Through it all, Artis shined, giving him the Panther of the Week honors.

Let’s just start with the low point of the season, which saw Pitt lose to Miami, AT HOME, by 26 points! In a game that saw no Ryan Luther and Michael Young battling a face injury, Artis tried his best to keep Pitt in the game, but fell short. The senior finished the game most would like to forget with a team high 15 points. He also chipped in two boards and two assists.

While that game is one that everyone wants to forget, Artis had one fans will remember for a long, long time against Louisville. The Panthers finished the contest with a 85-80 loss to the Cardinals. The game saw Pitt fall behind early, by over 20 points, but then everyone witnessed Artis’ refusal to let Pitt go away. He finished with 43 points, three rebounds and two assists. 32 of his points came in a wild second half.

The Baltimore, MD native was draining threes from NBA range and with defenders in his face and Louisville had to feel like they were in a horror movie for a little while. They had to be wondering why Pitt wouldn’t die until the final seconds. Artis shot 68% from the floor and that included seven treys.

Unfortunately most will remember this for the dismal performance against the Hurricanes and they should, but it should not let us forget Artis’ performance earlier in the week. The team needs Young to rebound from his injury and they must have find someone to step up for Luther’s absence. If that doesn’t happen, it won’t matter what Artis does.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

No. 23 Pitt wrestling dominates weekend duals to move to 7-2

The Pitt wrestling team returned to duals action for the first time in more than a month after beating West Virginia in December. The Panthers had three opponents as part of their hosted 'Pitt Duals' event on Saturday and won all three easily.

Pitt first shut out Franklin and Marshall, 46-0, before defeating Davidson (45-0) and Bloomsburg (32-6). Both Davidson and Franklin and Marshall were on the Pitt Duals slate last year and while the Panthers easily beat Davidson, they had more trouble with Franklin and Marshall, winning 'only' 25-12.

One minor note is that it was good to get Dom Forys back. Forys, a top ten ranked wrestler at 133 pounds, missed the team's last dual against West Virginia with an injury. He returned to win all three of his matches.

The only Pitt defeats on the day that the team suffered were losses by Taleb Rahmani at 157 pounds and Donovan McAfee at 184 pounds (both in the Bloomsburg dual). Both of those wrestlers had one other match and successfully won (Rahmani also won a third via forfeit, so he was 2-1 on the day).

Ranked wrestlers Dom Forys (No. 7), TeShan Campbell (No. 13), and Ryan Solomon (No. 20) all had easy days, finishing a perfect 9-0. Every bout except for a forfeit and Solomon's 2-0 win against Bloomsburg was a technical fall win or a pin.

The most interesting thing on a day full of easy wins was that Mikey Racciato didn't wrestle. Not sure if it was an injury issue but hopefully he's back in time for the next meet. That next one, by the way, is an important one - it's a road trip to Virginia Tech next weekend for the first ACC dual of the season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Kevin Stallings comments after brutal Miami loss

I don't typically 'do' basketball press conferences. Generally after football games, I'll try to check in on what Pat Narduzzi has to say, win or lose, but there's just way too many basketball games to care that much.

But being so curious how Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings would address the brutal loss to Miami on Saturday, I tuned in afterwards.

First, Stallings said what most of us thought in watching the game. "I certainly tip my cap to Mike Young because he shouldn't even have been playing," Stallings said.

Young, apparently, was a game day decision and the team didn't even find out they'd have him until late this morning. Late in the week, in fact, Stallings expected to have Ryan Luther but not Young, but it actually worked out the opposite way since Luther suffered an injury in practice on Friday. After that, Stallings figured the team would be without both until they learned of Young being able to play this morning. Finally, on that front, Stallings also confirmed Luther would be out for at least a couple of weeks.

You don't need me to tell you that's a problem for Pitt regarding the depth. Young will likely be available going forward, but Stallings said he would continue to wear the make since he has an orbital bone fracture.

One interesting thing that he said was that they would likely try a different mask. Earlier in the press conference, Stallings talked briefly about it being difficult to play in those things (in terms of being able to see and breathe, so it sounds as if Pitt is going to try a different mask for him to make him more comfortable. But it has to be custom-fitted and ordered, so they couldn't get it by today. Even if he is able to play, though, obviously he's going to be limited.

Stallings explained the mask deal a bit more. "That one he used today, I've had other players that have had to use that. In order to see down, you have to tilt your head to look down because you can't see below your eyes," he said. "The one he'll have, hopefully by Tuesday, will be clear and he'll have a better peripheral vision."

Stallings continued to praise Young and said that on Friday, he looked like he'd been in a ring against Mike Tyson with his eye barely open. Despite that, Young insisted he wanted to play. As I said earlier, he deserves a lot of credit for suiting up and trying to help the team out. Pitt was very shorthanded with Luther out and for Young to give it a go really impressed me a lot, despite the poor game he had.

The Pitt coach also talked about the lineup going forward without Luther. Would freshman Corey Manigault be the one to come in and pick up the slack?

"We might have to play small," Stallings said. He didn't elaborate on that since he went back to talking a little about the Luther injury, but I thought that was interesting. It was just a brief answer, but it certainly sounds like Pitt is hesitant to fill Luther's spot with another big. Assuming Pitt does go smaller, that probably means more of Justice Kithcart out there.

I thought that was an interesting answer because Pitt hasn't gotten much from those guys at all. Kithcart hasn't had a field goal in his last five games and Wilson hasn't had one since six games ago again Omaha. There's Jonathan Milligan as a potential option, too, but the long and short of it is that there isn't any easy fix to finding a replacement for Luther's minutes.

My guess is that Pitt continues to stretch their starting lineup as much as possible and simply get other guys off the bench to play a few minutes. If someone like Milligan gives them a few buckets, perhaps they play a bit more. This is going to be a lot of feeling their way around, I imagine, as the games go on. There's just not one solid option you can point to and say unequivocally that 'he's the guy.'

So, what did Stallings think about the game?

Particularly, I wanted to know what he thought of the team's effort. Stallings was first asked a question if he had anything specific to say about his team's effort. His response?

"No. No."

He later elaborated a little more.

"Today we felt like, obviously, was a day that we needed to win," Stallings said. "But I'm not going to come here and throw anybody under the bus."

Stallings continued. "I don't know if they did the best they could under the circumstances but I think they think they did the best they could under the circumstances. Do we need to get better? Yeah, we need to get better. Do we have some holes? Yeah, we have some holes. Have we had those holes all season long? Yes we have. But when you have holes and you have two guys that can bail you out sometimes like Jamel and Mike do then you can sometimes cover those holes."

Listening to Stallings speak there, he really just sounded like a guy that knew Pitt was walking such a thin rope. The depth, as we've stated, is not there. And while Pitt can be a good team at full strength just because of the starters, Stallings has known this team is inches from being significantly worse than they are when everyone is healthy.

It's also evident that without being too hard on the guys that he felt they could have given a better effort today. There's not really any other way to read into that quote. Effort, I felt, was a problem today and without saying it specifically, Stallings seemed to indirectly concede that he thinks it may have been, too.

Finally, Stallings talked a little about the roster deficiencies and sort of indirectly hinted about possibly not having enough talent. The coach continued, "If we've got guys injured, we've got to play the guys that we have. If the guys that we have aren't good enough to win, then we're not good enough to win."

No surprises here, but again, it's not hard to read between the lines. Stallings is short on talent (at least developed talent) and he knows it.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Effortless: Miami steamrolls Pitt in ugly 72-46 loss

In a game the basketball team virtually had to have, the Panthers were not only beaten, but routed, by Miami, falling 72-46 at home on Saturday.

That score isn't a typo, nor is the name of the opponent. Pitt lost to a decidedly average Miami team. At home. By nearly 30 points.

I really hate writing overly long articles and, generally, it's understood that anything beyond 1,000 words that's not a longform article on an important topic is considered rambling. Yeah, so this is going to be a lot of rambling because I know full well I'm clearing that 1,000-word limit today.

Pitt was missing Ryan Luther, who not only didn't play, but will be out for a few weeks with a foot injury sustained in practice this week. They might as well have been missing Michael Young, too. Young played most of the game, but clearly was nowhere close to 100% with an ugly eye injury that forced him to wear a mask. He was completely out of his element and had no positive impact at all, missing all ten of his field goals and scoring only two points. It was clear he wasn't really healthy enough to play and likely the only reason he did was because the team was just so short-handed without Luther off the bench.

Before I get to some of the things that annoyed me about this game, I wanted to touch on Young. No, he didn't play well. And if you asked him, I'm sure he'd say he was horrible. He looked visibly frustrated a few times during the game. But I really commend him for stepping up to not only play but play as much as he did. He was out there as much as the other starters today and knew how badly the team was shorthanded. I'm about to get really critical of what Pitt did today but to do so without recognizing the effort Young gave in a really difficult circumstance would be wholly unfair. If anyone deserves a bit of a pass today, it's him.

Now, to the rest.

Recapping stats is sort of pointless here, so I'm not going to bother. Here's the box score for those that want it, though.

I had a really big problem with how Pitt played today but it goes far beyond the actual result of a loss. For Pitt to lose to a decent Miami team on the road playing shorthanded would perhaps be disappointing but not entirely unexpected. To lose in the manner they did today, given the circumstances, is nothing short of unacceptable.

For starters, the game was not even close. Losing by 26 points to anybody is ugly. Losing by that many to a decent but not unbeatable Miami team is absolutely horrendous. And considering the game was at home, the loss is even more of a problem.

Speaking of home, that deserves some attention, too. The crowd today was completely lifeless and at times, it felt much more like a neutral-court game than a home game. I'm not the guy that's going to get on the crowd for that, though. It's hard to cheer in such a lopsided game. But I think it's important from a context standpoint in that it shows that the fanbase, as a whole, is much more apathetic when it comes to Pitt basketball these days. Tickets are readily available and I continue to get several notifications via email about buying tickets, etc. If Pitt continues on a downward path this season, imagine how difficult selling tickets will be next year when the team loses four starters and will, for all intents and purposes, be starting over?

Just food for thought. Back to the game.

Part of the problem for me is that this was a very beatable opponent. Miami shot pretty well from the field but was even sloppier than Pitt with 18 turnovers. Even with the decent shooting night, a lot of teams having decent games would have been able to beat the Hurricanes with that many gaffes. And again, this is a team that won by almost 30 points. I have to imagine these are the games that winning coaches sort of despise on some level. After all, how do you tell your team that taking care of the ball is all that important if they can be so haphazard out there and still blow their opponent out?

The game was tailor-made for Pitt. As I said, Miami is hardly a terrible team. But you figure that playing with your backs against the wall at home in a game you need, you'd see a bit more in terms of effort - shorthanded or not. This was a nice rebound situation for Pitt and a win here could have gotten them back on track after a slow start to the conference season.

Finally, consider that this also a game Pitt desperately needed. As I wrote in the preview for the gamethread, with such a challenging schedule, this was really a game Pitt needed to win. There wasn't much reason to not show up in this game - particularly after giving the game against Notre Dame away, coming out wholly unprepared against Syracuse, and getting blown out of the water in the first 20 minutes against Louisville to come back and make it a respectable finish. Is it an absolute killer in terms of the NCAAs? Nope. But it also means finding another win on the schedule, which is full of very difficult opponents.

Those three games, too, sort of underscore the problem I have with the team. There simply has been zero real effort in the first halves against Syracuse, Louisville, and now, Miami. And while it was disappointing to be shorthanded today, as I said on Twitter earlier today, this is hardly a one-game thing. It's the third straight time that Pitt has not only started off slowly, but looked entirely overmatched in the first half of games. That's not acceptable by any measure.

I still struggle with how much of this goes to Kevin Stallings since this isn't his roster. But what I don't struggle with is the idea that the team needs to give more effort and stop making so many boneheaded plays. And regardless of the guys on the court, that's part of Stallings' job. What's the answer to get more effort and better starts for Pitt? Lineup tinkering? New practice tactics? Beats me. But again, that's the job of Stallings - to coach the guys he has and it's up to him to figure it out.

I was also unimpressed with the offensive gameplan, whatever it may have been. As I said in the comments section of a recent post, Pitt's offense has largely been dominant due to having the two top scoring guys in the ACC. What I wondered at the time of my comment was just how much credit Stallings can receive since I figured they would score just as much on a Jamie Dixon team that was so thin. The offensive game plan without one of those guys (as we saw today and earlier against Duquesne) is generally pretty bad. There just isn't enough quality movement.

Let me explain.

A lot of times in basketball terms, people will suggest things like there's not enough ball movement in an offense. Ball movement facilities everything and is particularly important when you don't have stars that can easily break down defenders on a 1-1 level and get into the paint and/or take over games. When you have that, ball movement is generally less of an issue. But it's not just ball movement that teams need. Pitt, for example, moves the ball around enough for my tastes. What they don't have is quality movement without the ball - guys cutting and breaking free of their defender, looking to get open and actually do something.

Back in middle school basketball when all of us were getting our first taste of what it was like to play basketball on an actual team, we were just kids following the coaches instruction running the silly 'Replace' offense. They say cut, you cut. Often kids would cut and not be looking at the ball at all. Pitt's offense isn't that bad, of course, but my point is that you can move around a lot and really not do much of anything to get open for a quality shot. It seemed like there was a lot of that going on today. And in one case when Artis did cut freely to the basket and was open by a good two feet, he was blatantly missed by Chris Jones, who had the ball.

Just really bad basketball, folks.

Some of Pitt's problems have been in shooting the ball. They had another horrible shooting day and sometimes the ball just doesn't go in. But much of it is also on playing just bad basketball and not being a sound team. Pitt, for example, was outrebounded by 14 today. Things like rebounding are largely based on effort. And in a game that required all hands on deck and guys doing whatever they could to win, to be beaten that badly on the boards is a really bad look.

For the first time this year, I think some sense of panic will set in with a lot of fans. I wasn't there before since Pitt played Notre Dame and Virginia pretty well while putting together a great second half against Louisville. But there are too many alarms with this team right now and when you throw an injured Luther into the mix, it's hard to have much optimism at all around this team after a game like this.

Pitt has plenty of time to turn it around and as they showed against some of the better teams they've faced this year, when they're on, they're a pretty good team. But with many more showings like today, things could get ugly in a hurry.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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