I recently met up with an old friend who has since moved down to the Carolinas for work. He asserted that Pitt would have a tough time in the ACC as compared to the Big East. I’ll agree that ACC football will be tougher than Big East football. But where I part ways with my esteemed colleague is in Pitt basketball’s ability to compete.
While Pitt doesn’t have the same long history as Duke or UNC, outside of those two behemoths, who are Pitt fans to fear? To the Wikipedia Cave!!!
Since the ACC expanded after the 2004-2005 season, no team from that conference has advanced past the Sweet Sixteen except UNC and Duke. NONE.
|Bids||School||Last Bid||Last Win||Last Sweet 16||Last Elite 8||Last Final 4||Last Title Game||Last Title|
In that same time span, 6 Big East schools have at least made the Elite Eight, with 4 advancing to the Final Four.
Pitt’s 23 all-time bids ranks 10th in the current Big East (11th if you include former member WVU). In the present-day ACC, Pitt would be tied for fourth.
|Bids||School||Last Bid||Last Win||Last Sweet 16||Last Elite 8||Last Final 4||Last Title Game||Last Title|
After the next round of expansion, Pitt’s 23 bids will be tied for 7th in the new-look ACC, such is the strength of the three Big East teams being added to the roster.
|Bids||School||Last Bid||Last Win||Last Sweet 16||Last Elite 8||Last Final 4||Last Title Game||Last Title|
Everyone knows the elephant in the room for Pitt basketball over the past decade+ of success – reaching the Final Four. I’m really looking forward to the new ACC as it will undoubtedly be the best basketball conference in the land after the decimation of the Big East (momentofsilenceohwearedonealready) and the Big Ten diluting its basketball brand by adding Rutgers.
But seriously, outside of Duke and UNC, who else should truly concern me? NC State is respectable but maybe (probably not) on the level of even Georgetown. Between the two of Miami and FSU, you usually find one surprise which might equate to a Marquette or Cincinnati. Virginia is doing well this season but again, probably no greater than Notre Dame year-in, year-out. Of the Big East additions, Pitt has a 9-3 record recently over Syracuse and has gone 4-4 vs Louisville. Notre Dame is a tougher out for us but we still usually finish above them in the standings.
While Pitt is still searching for that NCAA Tournament breakthrough, I have every confidence they’ll be able to compete at the highest levels of the ACC. In most years, I think we’ll be able to slot in to the Top 5 or 6 of the new ACC.
Every time the Penguins play the Islanders, as they’re doing tonight, I can’t help but remember David Volek. Oh the name conjures memories of infamy, it does. It was Volek’s slapshot in Game 7 of the 1993 NHL playoff series between the Pens and Islanders that denied Mario Lemieux and company the chance at a three-peat.
It pains us, it does. It burnsss. It freezessss. Volek’s goal places him among the top sports villains of my life.
Not as high as Scottie Reynolds. But higher than Alfred Pupunu. Maybe in the same vein as Mardy Gilyard or Larry Brown (the Cowboys DB) , though Brown’s misdeeds against my sporting life were in a higher stakes game.
There would be no dynasty for the Pittsburgh Penguins of Mario Lemieux. They continued to be among the top teams for many years afterwards but looking back now, damn, that team should’ve won that third Stanley Cup! If not for David #$%^@ Volek.
I suppose with the Superbowl coming up, I should name Ray Lewis or Ed Reed in the list. Long and storied careers full of antagonism but to my recollection, neither have a signature, defining play that cuts so deep. They would likely go on a different list.
No one will likely ever supplant Francisco Cabrera though.
For years after the ACC first raided the Big East for Miami and Virginia Tech, Pitt partisans dreamed of a move to the Big Ten. TV markets, however, dictated that Pitt would/will never get an invite. The Big Ten Network is already in the Pittsburgh area because of Pennstate. Ratings themselves don’t necessarily matter. If you have expanded cable, you get the BTN whether you watch it or not. So you’re paying for it no matter what. The B1G gets paid, period. I still prefer the ACC.
In football, we can still maintain a strong northeastern and mid-atlantic presence against former Big East schools Syracuse, BC and VT. We get a better toehold in Florida with the additions of games against FSU and resumption of games against Miami-FL. We can expand our recruiting south to places like the Carolinas. And historically, Pitt hasn’t needed a rivalry presence to recruit Ohio; the River City Rivalry with Cincinnati stretches back less than a decade. Moving to the B1G would open up the midwest more but that’s about it.
There’s no doubt that Big Ten schools have more aggregate football success and tradition at the top than the ACC. OSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Pennstate are among the blue-bloods of collge football. But the ACC still has two blue-blood brands of its own in FSU and Miami-FL and two barons (so to speak) in Clemson and VT.
In basketball, the advantage is clear. In either scenario, B1G or ACC, Pitt loses the access to Madison Square Garden that the Big East provided. But one of the biggest false narratives about Pitt basketball is our supposed reliance on NYC talent. In Ben Howland’s early days, that was certainly true but Jamie Dixon has broadening our recruiting during his tenure, expanding into DC/MD area. The best Pitt team of the past two decades, the 2008-2009 Elite Eight team, had only two players from NYC prep schools (three if you count Don Bosco Prep, which I don’t). Sam Young, one of the most dynamic players on that Pitt team, came from Maryland. As Pitt’s talent level has slowly improved, Dixon’s need to rely on under-talented grinders from NYC has diminished.
Institutionally, Pitt fits equally well in the ACC and Big Ten. We’re a major research university. We’re part of the AAU. Our endowment of $2.5 billion would be the third highest in the B1G, fourth highest in the ACC (if you include ND).
In terms of our enrollment, Pitt would be one of the smallest schools in the Big Ten, third from the bottom. In the ACC, we’re right in the middle. Don’t think that enrollment doesn’t factor into a school’s ability to fill its stadia. When it wins, Pitt can/will fill Heinz Field because the city is also along for the ride. When it loses, well, it looks like Byrd Stadium at Maryland.
Ultimately, money talks. For Rutgers, this move absolutely makes sense when the alternative is staying in a sinking Big East ship. But for Maryland, outside of the money, it’s a bad, bad decision. The same would have gone for Pitt.
The college sports world was thrown into turmoil this weekend when it was revealed Pitt and Syracuse had applied for and been accepted for membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Speaking to Andy Katz of ESPN, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said that adding the Panthers and Orangemen would be a coup for the ACC.
“It’s actually pretty exciting,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it’s great for our conference football-wise, even better basketball-wise. Wherever this is going to end up, four big-time conferences or five, whatever it is, you want to be perceived as No. 1 in football and basketball.”
It is widely known that Duke and Coach K opposed the ACC’s previous expansion plans, a position that solidified the other universities’ resolve to add Miami-FL, Virginia Tech and Boston College. So even though Pitt and Syracuse bring top-notch basketball programs to the ACC, Krzyzewski’s remarks still caught ACC administration off guard.
MST has since learned that the ACC’s Presidents and Athletic Directors have had a sudden change of heart upon hearing of Coach K’s welcoming words. Using a little known by-law known as the We Hate Duke Corollary, they have since re-voted to reject Pitt’s and Syracuse’s applications to the conference. The ACC’s expansion focus will now shift to schools that will most definitely piss off the Blue Devils.
“It’s actually pretty exciting,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it’s great for our conference football-wise, even better basketball-wise. Wherever this is going to end up, four big-time conferences or five, whatever it is, you want to be perceived as No. 1 in football and basketball.
Being a fan means that we have expectations of the teams we follow, be it a professional or college team. There was once a time when we held different expectations of even our major college teams than of our professional teams.
A professional athlete, at least by definition if not by attribution, plays the game for a wage; he has on-field metrics to attain, the loftiest of which is to win a championship. I think it’s fair to hold most professional athletes to this standard. Though we may praise them for noteworthy efforts in defeat, ultimately, such outcomes are a failure.
A major college athlete, however, is still an amateur. I know that in today’s cynical world, we like to deride the corruption and avarice of major college athletics. I’ll not demure from such characterizations but I’ve known a few who played college football and I can vouch that they saw the importance of getting on with their “life’s work” (as Chuck Noll called it) faster than we, the jaded public, may give them credit. No, such individuals didn’t morph into Rhodes Scholars or lead perfect lives but they took their courses of study no less seriously than the non-athlete students who have always known they were destined for the cubicle farms of modern workaday America.
So, if we allow that the vast, vast, vast majority of college athletes are truly amateurs, then the expectations we place on them must be reasonably commensurate with that amateur status, even for major athletics programs. The lofty olden goal of the college athlete has always been to grow as a person, to use athletics as a past-time and as a means to earn a college degree and prepare for a non-football future. Winning is important, as it is in the real-world, but there were different levels of winning.
The stated goal of Michigan’s legendary head coach Bo Schembechler was to win the Big Ten title and anything that happened in the bowl game afterwards was gravy. Schembechler was 5-12 in bowl games, 2-8 in the Rose Bowl and never won a National Title. Such an absymal bowl record would probably have gotten him fired at Big Blue these days. In 1963, Pitt football compiled a 9-1 regular season record and earned the #3 poll ranking. When they were shut out of the so-called National Title game and offered to play in a lesser bowl game, the athletes declined. Because that bowl game interfered with Finals week.
As I survey major college basketball around this time every year, I hear talk about the “next level” and what type of results in the NCAA Tournament would make for a successful year. For the minnows, it’s just getting into the NCAA Tournament. But for most high-major programs, the goal is to win the National Championship and less is often considered something of a failure. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to win a National Championship. I would hardly call Duke’s program corrupt for holding to such a standard.
Coaches today will talk the same game. No less than Pitt’s Jamie Dixon has stated that winning a National Title, not just breaking in to the Final Four, is Pitt’s true goal. As a Pitt sports fan, I do love that statement. But even though the Final Four and the Elite Eight and even the Sweet Sixteen are largely ESPN-marketing driven creations, they still serve as reasonable levies against what is otherwise our just-win-baby culture. Yet coaches successively come under fire when their programs somehow can’t get thru the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight, then the Final Four, then the National Championship. If it took the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, John Wooden, 15 years to get UCLA to a Final Four and 16 years to win a National Title, I’m ok with keeping my college sports expectations in check.
ESPN.com reports that Rick Pitino may be interested in the Sacramento Kings head coaching job. Having largely failed in two previous stints in the Ligg, Pitino’s outsized ego may push him to give the NBA another shot in order to prove that he has what it takes to succeed on both levels, ala Larry Brown.
With the exception of the aforementioned Brown, few successful college coaches, football or baskeball, seem to prosper in the Pro’s. Tim Floyd, Nick Saban and Mike Montgomery easily come to mind. Pitino’s new nemesis at Kentucky, John Calipari wasn’t successful in the Pro’s.
On the other hand, Bill Callahan failed miserably at Nebraska. Charlie Weis has yet to deliver at Notre Dame. Al Groh chose to go back to UVA rather than coach the New York Jets and although his record in Charlottesville is admirable, it’s not particularly elite.
In college, you have to schmooze alumni and boosters. You have to raise money for the athletic department. You need to court 18-year (oft-spoiled) superstar children who have never heard a bad word about their games. You have to graduate players. You are the face of a program, much moreso than in the Pro’s.
In the Pro’s, you have greater access to your players but have to deal with egos made larger by huge, sometimes unwarranted, contacts. You have to assist a general manager with navigating a salary cap/luxury tax. The season is longer.
Perhaps it takes failing like Steve Spurrier did with the Redskins for a coach to realize that he is better suited to one game or the other. I think Pitino is better suited for the college game. He’s a master at it.
I would posit that coaching in the Pro’s isn’t inherently more difficult; it’s just a different game. It’s not as if the salaries are markedly different. Phil Jackson, for instance, is a master at the Pro game. I don’t think he would be comfortable in college. But for some reason, we in this society equate the Pro’s with the pinnacle in all aspects. Becoming a Pro may be the ultimate goal for an athlete but it shouldn’t necessarily be the case for a coach.
A quick list of the Grand Canyon State’s ever growing contingent of Pittsburgh-related coaching connections:
* Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt served most of his coaching career with the Steelers, ending as Offensive Coordinator.
* Whisenhunt’s top assistant Russ Grimm is from Scottsdale, played his college ball at Pitt and was Bill Cowher’s top assistant/offensive line coach with the Steelers.
* Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis got his first start in NFL coaching with the Steelers.
* Arizona State head basketball coach Herb Sendek grew up in Pittsburgh, graduating from Penn Hills High School and Carnegie Mellon University.
* Finally, new University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller is from Blackhawk High School and considered one of the best point guards ever to play for Pitt. He also spent some time as an assistant at Pitt.
Is that enough to convince you that Arizona = Pittsburgh West? Oh and there’s also Larry Fitzgerald.
* I was all set to write a post about how Arizona should know its place in the college basketball world and that despite its past history, Arizona shouldn’t mentioned in the same breath as UCLA, UNC or Kansas anymore. After all, Mark Few, Jamie Dixon, John Calipari and Tim Floyd had already rejected the Wildcats’ advances.
Then they go out and get Sean Miller. Way to step up to the plate, Jim Livengood. Miller is a fantastic coach; he’ll do well out there. He’s just the guy to transform Arizona from a school defined by its legendary coach, Lute Olson, into a school that defines its head coach.
* Note to all those arrogant Dukies though – you are a Coach K move away from becoming Arizona. Duke was ok before Krzyzewski arrived in Durham but they’re obviously off the charts with him. As I’ve stated before, there’s no reason to believe that Duke has a “right” to be part of college basketball royalty. Even UCLA had some lean years post-John Wooden. Ultimately, schools like Arizona or eventually Duke will have to transform from being defined by a coach to being defined by the program.
* I really came to respect Tom Izzo’s considerable coaching abilities last year when his Spartans took out Pitt in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s face it – that was not his best team and Pitt was on a roll after winning the Big East tournament. I would honestly consider him among the top 5 major coaches out there, alongside Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski.
I’m leaving my alma mater’s last two coaches, Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland, off the list because titles are the name of the game. All the coaches on this list have reached the summit. But I honestly believe Izzo is one of the few coaches out there who could step up and compete in the Big East.
* A good friend of mine at Duke recently got very excited that Seth Curry is transferring from Liberty to Duke. Like most single-mindedly, self-absborbed Duke ‘fans’, he decided to trumpet this event to me in the middle of my misery over the Pitt loss. Now that I’m somewhat more clear-headed, I have to say – whoop dee doo! Just what Duke needs; another jump shooter. Nope, not a big or a banger. Another skinny little kid for Duke’s dribble-drive, kick-it-out offense. Curry is a great player but he couldn’t have banged with the big dawgs in the Big East.
As the college basketball season draws to a close, the coaching carousel has started to spin, as it always does this time of year. Jamie Dixon has been rumored to leave Pitt for a few years now; whether it was when USC a few years ago or now that Arizona is searching. I don’t think he’ll leave… for now.
John Calipari is leaving a pretty good situation at Memphis for the University of Kentucky. Tim Floyd turned down Arizona to stay at USC. Mike Anderson is staying at Missouri after getting a hefty pay raise and who knows what Mark Few at Gonzaga will do.
Some programs are defined by one great coach. Arizona is considered one of the better jobs in the country because Lute Olson made it that way. Likewise, Jim Calhoun at UConn and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke define their institutions.
Other great programs define their coaches. Ben Howland at UCLA, Roy Williams at UNC and now John Calipari at Kentucky are just another few names in the long list of winners at their schools. Great though they may be, the institutions are the big schtick, not the coaches.
Money aside, I often wonder why rebuilding a program seems more attractive to a coach than creating his own legacy. Kentucky’s tradition may be greater than most programs in the country but once you reach a certain level, the infrastructure is the same. If we take long-term legacy into account, who’s to say that Memphis under Calipari couldn’t have become the next UConn.
I, for one, think Jamie Dixon could become the icon of Pitt basketball. He could be the one to make it a destination job. Laugh if you will but there was no predetermination that schools such as Kansas or Indiana would become college basketball royalty. College basketball is slightly different from college football in that you don’t need a fertile recruting backyard to be successful. Duke had ZERO players from North Carolina on its roster. Of those 14 players, only two were from the same home state.
I don’t think anyone would fault Calipari for taking the enormous pay raise he got from Kentucky. I think he is poised to become the next great Wildcats coach and will rule the SEC for years to come. But if he had been offered “only” $1 million more, would it have been prudent to leave a program he was already building into a dominant force. We will never know.
By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.
I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.
In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.
But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.
Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.