The college basketball season has been done for over a week, and now is a good time to take a look back on the Pittsburgh Panthers season with a clear unemotional view.
Sometimes fans and media will overreact when their team’s season ends, which is why I chose to wait until all of college basketball ended to give my thoughts on the 2015-16 Pitt season. There were some good things and of course plenty of headache, so let’s get into it.
The season was supposed to begin in Okinawa, but poor court conditions left what could have been a great upset win over Gonzaga unsettled. For the next four games Pitt had an easy road, blowing past St. Joseph’s (IND), Detroit, Cornell and Kent State.
Up next was the biggest game of the season, to that point, versus number 11 Purdue. But Pitt started and ended the game poorly, losing 72-59.
The next six games were all won against inferior opponents, the only real highlight from that stretch was the 94-69 victory over Davidson in Madison Square Garden.
At 10-1 Pitt began ACC play at home versus rival Syracuse. The contest was close throughout, but the Panthers ran away late to win by 11.
The season continued to grow more and more promising after three more victories against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Georgia Tech and at Notre Dame. With a 14-1 record and number 20 ranking in the AP Poll things looked great.
That is when everything came crashing down, as they would get pounded by Louisville. From that point the Panthers would go .500 over the next six games. They beat Boston College, Florida State, and Virginia Tech, but lost to Louisville, NC State, and Clemson.
After Virginia Tech, Pitt would lose their next three games to ranked teams, nine Virginia, 12 Miami, and nine North Carolina. The season looked like it might be fading away.
A double overtime win at home versus lowly Wake Forest jump started the Panthers, as they would go on to win two of their next three with wins at Syracuse and home versus number 15 Duke, both by 14. Their only loss was at home versus Louisville.
The end of the season was a let down, with only one bright spot. After back-to-back losses away at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, the Panthers managed to escape Syracuse by one in the ACC Tournament. They would then get rolled by North Carolina, and were given a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Finally, the season ended with a low scoring, grind it out loss to Wisconsin in the first round.
The Pitt Panthers would climb as high as 20 in the AP Poll, before falling out and never making it back in. The question lingers, was this season a failure?
First, a review of how each player graded out this season.
Michael Young= B+
Young improved on last year by moving his points per game up two to just over 15. Unfortunately, for much of the year he was over 16 and it was some late season inconsistency that really brought the average down. Still, as a third team All-ACC selection he showed valuable improvement going into his senior year.
Jamel Artis= B
Much like Young, Artis moved his points per game up, although his was by only one to 14. As a whole Artis showed flashes of a go to guy, but like Young he was widely inconsistent at times. Syracuse was the only team he played consistently well against. If only we played them every game, Artis would be an All-American.
Robinson did what was expected of him throughout the season. He passed well, five to one assist to turnover ratio, and hit big shots. The real problem with him is that his lack of speed and playmaking killed the offense. Pitt would go through painful scoring droughts, which Robinson was incapable of getting them out of.
Exceeding expectations is what a player should strive to do, and Jeter did that this year. He regularly played out of position at the five spot and still found ways to rebound and hustle. Jeter is the role player ever team wants to have.
This grade is not totally a failure, because his lack of production does not surprise me. Jones was supposed to be one of Dixon’s shooter, but shot 28 percent from three and only showing flashes of value. He is not an every game starter.
I will admit it, Luther frustrated me early in the season due to struggling defense and lack of offense. The second half of the season Luther started being more aggressive on offense, showing he does have real potential.
Dixon used Johnson wrong, he never designed plays to give the team’s best shooter an open look. Johnson has the type of length and shooting stroke that is a huge asset in college basketball today, but Dixon only let some of that potential show.
Sterling was a solid two guard to start the season, but when he stopped hitting threes his value was nonexistent. Smith was incapable of scoring in any other way than from the three-point line, which is a liability.
Wilson is hard to judge, because at certain times he looked like a playmaker and other times he looked out of control. Maybe with more minutes we will get a better picture.
He rebounded hustled well, but his offensive limitations hold him back.
Alonzo fails, because he went from starter to last man on the bench. It is not a loss now that he is gone.
75 points per game over the course of a season is pretty solid, but they never seemed to score against quality opponents. As well, their three-point percentage continued to decline as the season progressed, for one stretch they made three of 34 attempts. The biggest positive signs from the offense were the rebounding and free throw percentage. Pitt regularly outrebounded teams and were ranked 19 nationally in free throw percentage.
Pitt’s defense this season struggled to contain elite scorers. That mainly had to do with the fact that Robinson was used as the primary perimeter defender, and he is too slow to keep up with quick scoring guards. Also, like many Pitt teams they seemed to lose track of shooters far too often. In the end the defense did improve late in the season, so that should be mentioned.
There are two sides to this, on the one Dixon did get a team that was projected 10 in the ACC preseason projections into the NCAA Tournament. But on the other he never found a starting lineup that worked consistently and could not design an offense to get players into the right sets. Just below average seems about accurate for a grade.
Overall Season Grade: C
Pitt made the NCAA Tournament with a team that let’s face it fooled many into believing they were better than they actually are because of the early season success. This team does return six of their top seven scorers, so next season should be used as a learning lesson. However, that does mean last season’s team should be given any more leeway, they were an average at best team who never played consistently well.