The 2017-18 Pitt basketball team is in real danger of going winless in the ACC.
The Panthers squandered one of their best chances on Saturday after spotting Georgia Tech a 22-1 lead. While Pitt briefly made it interesting, crawling back to cut it to single digits, the Yellow Jackets ended up with a 69-54 victory at the Pete.
So, who’s to blame for the current predicament?
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings is an easy target. Pitt fans, who have been used to winning under Jamie Dixon, have made it very clear they’re unhappy with his coaching since taking over in 2016-17. But with the injury to Ryan Luther, the Panthers’ most experienced player, Stallings has been forced to go with lineups featuring four or five freshmen pretty much every game since.
That brings up a very interesting question: since Ben Howland took over in 1999-2000, how much have the Panthers had to rely on contributions from freshmen?
Fortunately for you, we crunched the numbers.
Dating back to Ben Howland’s first year (and not including 2017-18), the Panthers have never had to rely on freshmen for more than 29% of their points. In fact, only one year have freshmen ever accounted for more than 50% of the teams rebound, assist, steal, block or point totals. That year? 2013-14 when 5-star freshman Steven Adams, James Robinson and Durand Johnson accounted for 69 of the Panthers’ 131 blocks (Adams had 65 of the 69 freshman blocks).
So far this year? Freshmen have contributed 51.08% of the total rebounds, 59.66% of the total assists, 50.6% of the total steals, 66.13% of the total blocks and 55.48% of the total points. Those numbers don’t include Kene Chukwuka, who is considered a sophomore—although this is his first NCAA season—and will undoubtedly increase without Ryan Luther who is out for the season.
Some other interesting numbers. Not including this year, the 2007-08 freshmen contributed the greatest share of rebounds, 37.24%, thanks in large part to Dejuan Blair and Gilbert Brown, the largest share of steals, 40.24%, and the most points, 28.60%. In Ben Howland’s first year, freshmen contributed the greatest share of assists, 37.91%. Not surprisingly that was Brandin Knight’s first season with the team.
Here are the rest of the freshman totals dating back to 1999-2000.
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Some other numbers that stand out? In Dixon’s last two seasons and Stallings’ first (when he had all players from the Dixon era), freshman contributions were basically nil. Only in one season did any percentage crack double digits and that was assists (10.79%) and steals (11.11%) in 2015-16, thanks to Cameron Johnson and Damon Wilson. More damning, in his last year as head coach, juniors and seniors accounted for 72% of the rebounds, 77% of the assists, 72% of the steals and 76% of the blocks and 74% of the scoring. That disparity carried over into Stallings’ first year as the seniors he inherited (Michael Young, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones) accounted for 62% of the rebounds, 68% of the assists, 63% of the steals, 68% of the blocks and 72% of the scoring. That pretty much confirms the notion that Dixon left the cupboard bare before leaving (or being forced out, whichever story you prescribe to).
So what does it all mean? Well, Pitt is not Duke. Starting five freshman like the Panthers have this year is basically unheard of. When Dixon became coach, his freshmen only contributed 23.41% of the rebounds, 11.28% of the assists, 7.44% of the steals, 38.46% of the blocks and 18.03% of the points. Dixon inherited a team that had gone 28-5 and made it to the sweet sixteen from Ben Howland, as well as notable players like Carl Krauser (a sophomore) and freshmen Chris Taft, Chevron Troutman, Antonio Graves and Aaron Gray.
Ben Howland’s tenure featured the closest thing to a rebuild, although he inherited junior Ricardo Greer from Ralph Willard, who averaged 18.1 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.2 APG and 1.8 SPG in Howland’s first year and 16.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.8 APG in his second, as well as standout point guard Brandin Knight, who as a freshman averaged 8.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.5 APG and 2.8 SPG. Howland, it can be noted, finished 13-15 his first year and 19-14 in his second, but never had a freshman class contribute more than 23.45% points per game. His rebuild was certainly nothing like the one facing Stallings.
It remains to be seen whether or not Stallings will get a chance to build the program, but considering the uphill battle he’s been forced to endure, it seems somewhat unfair to assign him all of—or even most—of the blame for the program’s current situation. Relying on freshmen to lead the team is hard enough for a school like Pitt, who just doesn’t get 5-star, NBA-ready recruits. Throw in the fact that they have undergo the rebuild in the ACC, and you have a recipe for some long, losing seasons.