Thursday, September 22, 2011

I think Pitt basketball survives in the ACC

For me -- and for many other college hoops fans -- one of the most interesting and depressing plot lines through this realignment madness has been what the future holds for some of college basketball's elite programs.

What happens to Georgetown and Villanova? Will they continue to be able to play at the high-major level without a football program? What about Kansas and Kansas State? Are they going to find a home? Will Louisville and West Virginia?

The topic that has made headlines of late is how a move to the ACC will affect Pitt basketball. Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News opined over the weekend that the move could be the death knell for Pitt's program. His reasoning? Jamie Dixon has built his reputation by recruiting kids from Philly and New York that fly under the radar. His selling point is the chance to play in the Big East, a prospect that every kid on the east coast dreams of, which would provide ample opportunities to return home to play in front of their friends and family.

There are no teams from Philly in the ACC. The only New York school is Syracuse, which is actually further from New York City than Maryland is. DeCourcy's argument is that without a strong local recruiting base in Pittsburgh, Dixon's will slowly have the legs cut out from under his program. As DeCourcy is wont to do, he makes some very valid points.

But it wasn't enough to convince former Pitt assistant and current Marshall head coach Tom Herrion.

"I think it will have zero effect," Herrion told Jeff Eisenberg of The Dagger. "Jamie has built that program to continue to sustain success. They've proven over the last 10 years that program can win against teams all over the country. There will be a transition period and an adjustment geographically, but I think it will have zero effect on the program."

"It might even help them in a lot of areas. They may even be able to go into other areas and get kids that they couldn't before."

To be frank, there is an argument to be made for both sides, and only time will tell which is accurate.

But what needs to be mentioned is that Dixon's program hasn't been built on blue-chip recruits. While players like Khem Birch and Steven Adams (who hail from Canada and New Zealand, respectively) are both considered top ten players in their class, they are the exception that proves the rule of Dixon's philosophy. Pitt isn't a place you go if you are a one-and-done kind of player. Its a program that attracts kids that have been overlooked by some of the other big programs, kids that Dixon coaches up to become all-conference players by their junior or senior year.

Pitt is the definition of a "program". Its runs the same way that Bo Ryan's runs his program at Wisconsin or that John Beilein runs a program at every one of his stops. Its more about finding players with the right fit than players with the right rankings on If the kids from Philly and New York that Dixon currently chases down don't want to play in the Big East, there's a pretty good chance that Pitt takes an initial hit from the change in conference affiliation.

But there are under recruited prospects all over the country, not just in those two east coast cities. And, eventually, Dixon will find them.

I have to side with Herrion on this one. Five years ago, this move could have brought about the demise of Pitt Panther basketball.

Right now, there is too much momentum and Dixon is too good of a head coach.


LRJ~ said...

A greater concern is Pitt's physical style of play. It's Big East Basketball not ACC. I don't expect them to get a lot of calls in road games down South.

Matt B said...

I agree somewhat with LRJ. Pitt's physical style will cause them problems with ACC refs. With the league overall having a more of an up and down reputation, the refs tend to be a little tighter on the whistle compared to the Big East. It's much harder to keep teams down in the 60's scoring-wise, which is something that Pitt often relies on. Al Skinner brought a poor man's version (I'll admit it was slightly different on court, but very similar in terms of recruiting tough, underrated guys) of this to the ACC 6 years ago, and despite some initial success, his teams slowly declined in the league. Will Pitt fall that far, no, but within 5 years I can see them going from a perennial top 10-15 team that gets 1-3 seeds to a top 25-40 team that gets more 6-10 seeds.