Let’s take a minute or two of cool reflection to discuss the problems that beset the Pitt basketball program after yet another enormously disappointing performance in the NCAA tournament. I’ve read and listened quite a bit since Pitt was trashed by Wichita State yesterday and haven’t seen or heard a whole lot that makes sense.
Let’s start with the most ridiculous charge made against Dixon, whose teams have gone to nine NCAA tournaments in his ten years as head coach.
He should just let them play.
Oh, really! With no disrespect intended for the people who have suggested this strategy, it is about the stupidest thing that possibly could be said about the Pitt program. The last thing Pitt wants to do is get into a basketball free-for-all with its Big East opponents.
In Dixon’s tenure, Pitt is 115-57 in Big East play. Had he allowed his teams to ``just play,’’ my guess is they would have been 57-115.
Just consider how well Pitt has done against Syracuse in recent years. I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but Pitt has dominated the series. Is there anyone out there who actually believes if Pitt had chose to run with Syracuse over the past five or so year that it would have dominated the series? More likely, such a strategy would have resulted in the supremely talented Orangemenbeing the dominant winner.
The in-game strategy Dixon has chosen to use is -- by far -- the wisest path he could have taken.
As is well known, Pitt has not done nearly as well in the postseason as it has in the regular season. Again, does Pitt really want to `just play’ against the best teams in the country? Does it really want to abandon the success it had in the Big East for an entirely different strategy? That, too, would be stupid.
So what’s the problem?
The problem that almost annually stops Pitt from advancing in the NCAA tournament is the same one that has kept the Pirates a loser for 20 years: Not enough good players. Pitt’s problem is not strategy. Pitt’s problem is talent.
If you want to blame Dixon for something, it’s not how he plays but who he plays.
A brief historical digression: The two men given the least credit for Pitt’s ascendancy in the 1980s from small-time college program to major player are Seth Greenberg and John Calipari. Under Roy Chipman (Greenberg and Calipari) and Paul Evans (Calipari), they are the men who were most responsible for bringing in the highly rated players. They recruited Clyde Vaughan and Curtis Aiken and Charles Smith and Jerome Lane and Brian Shorter and many more.
Great head coaching careers are built on the grunt work of assistants who can recruit.
And that’s where Dixon has faltered. He either has not hired assistants who can bring in the players or they have not stuck around long enough. Pitt has not had a notable recruiter since Barry Rohrssen, hired by Ben Howland and kept on by Dixon, left to become head coach at Manhattan in 2006. That doesn’t mean Dixon has had poor assistants. That means he hasn’t had great ones. He hasn’t had a Calipari.
If Dixon stays at Pitt and leads the team into the Atlantic Coast Conference, he will be faced with many challenges. But none so great as getting better players. To answer that challenge, he needs assistant coaches who are better recruiters.
It’s not all about talent, just mostly. And the only way to accumulate great talent is with great recruiters.