In anticipation of Wednesday night’s ACC tilt between the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Pittsburgh Panthers, we chatted with our friends at SB Nation’s Cardiac Hill. Managing editor Anson Whaley was kind enough to thoroughly answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWhaley. For all things Pittsburgh, be sure to check out Cardiac Hill. Maybe Wake will even play them in football one of these years!
Blogger So Dear (BSD): It's year one of the Kevin Stallings era. What do you and other Pitt fans think of the job that he has done so far?
Cardiac Hill (CH): Overall, Kevin Stallings has not won many people over. I'd put myself in that camp, although I do believe he deserves some time to see what he can do. The biggest problem for me and others is that this Pitt team has basically the same makeup as they did last season. The Panthers went a little deeper on the bench, but the players they used weren't significant. Pitt returned four of five starters from a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year. Now, barring some miraculous finish, they are poised to miss it despite all of those players being a year older. The lone new starter, Cameron Johnson, is also the team's third-leading scorer and has done more than an adequate job in replacing point guard James Robinson. In other words, while top heavy, this team has a pretty solid core. Pitt has the top two scorers in the ACC so again, there's talent here. 15-12 at this point in the season is not what most people expected.
Stallings has also been openly very critical of the players and their effort this season. I have less of a problem with that than other Pitt fans do because the team was mired in a bit of a slide when he really started taking this approach and, well, the effort has been subpar. Players have even acknowledged that much at times. But regardless of how I feel about it, that's something that doesn't always work. Stallings has been criticized by some fans for taking that stance and, perhaps, not assuming enough of the blame himself. And when you lose as they have this year, that's something that's going to stand out even more than if the team was winning.
Overall, I'm not incredibly happy with the job done and I'd probably grade Stallings' job so far at about a D+/C-. Everything that's happened isn't entirely his fault and the team also has sustained a key injury in losing sixth man Ryan Luther to a foot injury for the past few weeks. But all in all, I still think this is a below average job given what he returned from last year's NCAA Tournament team. I don't know how many teams in the history of the ACC have had the top two scorers but fail to make the NCAA Tournament.
BSD: Pitt is a very solid offensive team in terms of efficiency, but struggles on the defensive end. What do you believe is Pitt's biggest defensive issue?
CH: Probably the lack of a true center. Pitt has often lacked this component lately, but without Jamie Dixon's emphasis on defense, it's really stood out even more. Michael Young is one of the best players in the conference but is undersized and is really more of a true power forward. Pitt also took power forward Jamel Artis and put him at point guard. He isn't a great defender and when matched up against guards, really struggles at times out there.
The Panthers have turned to backup Rozelle Nix to give them minutes in the paint with the loss of the 6'9" Luther. But while Nix gives a great effort, at 300 pounds or so, he's just too slow to consistently provide great defense. The defense has improved but is still not as good as it really needs to be.
BSD: What do you believe is Pittsburgh's biggest advantage in this game?
CH: The top two scorers, Young and Artis, always are Pitt's biggest advantage. Those guys consistently give the team 40 points a night and that makes it much easier on the rest of the team. But what I really like about the Panthers is that they've had some other guys step up and that has made them more dangerous. Power forward Sheldon Jeter had a career-high 29 in an upset against Florida State this weekend. The aforementioned Johnson had 39 in the two games before that. Pitt is decent with Young and Artis in there but if you get big games out of other players, they can hang with just about anyone when things are clicking.
BSD: What do you believe is Pittsburgh's biggest disadvantage in this game?
CH: John Collins notwithstanding, I'm a little concerned how Pitt defends the three-point line against Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods - both capable long-range artists. Pitt needs to get out there and defend the arc and beyond that, clean up the glass. The Panthers have had some problems giving up offensive rebounds and second chance shots. If they're going to win, they need to limit the perimeter guys and really get after it on the glass.
BSD: Finally, let's get a prediction for this one.
CH: I actually like Pitt in this one - something that hasn't been all that popular a notion during and after the team's eight-game losing streak. Playing on the road won't be easy but even at 15-12, there's still more talk about sneaking into the NCAA Tournament among the players than you might expect. They put out a really great effort on Saturday against Florida State and I think they know that their margin for error is practically nil at this point. I still wouldn't expect them make the NCAAs given what they still would need to do but I believe they'll come out hungry and as they've proven with wins over ranked Maryland, Virginia, and Florida State teams, they're capable of playing with almost anyone when they're on their game. I'll say something like Pitt by six.