The Pittsburgh Panthers have to be thrilled with the start of their new era. Jamie Dixon is gone, but Kevin Stallings and company have started this new regime by winning six of their first seven outings available to them. Yet, that outstanding start doesn’t change a few potential factors which can limit long-term success.
The key factor is Stallings himself. He had a history of underachieving at Vanderbilt, though to be fair to him, that idea mostly surfaced last season, when he failed to parlay two NBA-level players into a deep run during March. The Washington Huskies of the South, if you will (but not as underachieving).
For now, let’s focus on how and why the Panthers are off to a relatively solid start.
Not at all shocking, Stallings is reaping the benefits of inheriting a cupboard fuller than any of ours after a trip to the grocery store. This isn’t a situation where a coach was taking over a beaten and broken program, leaving those cupboards like those naked of canned-good-existence in The Walking Dead. It was (is) a good situation for any coach to walk into.
Michael Young: back. Jamel Artis: back. Cameron Johnson: back. Chris Jones: back. Ryan Luther: back. Sheldon Jeter: back. And on it goes.
With the exception of Justice Kithcart (who has been of minimal consequence anyway), every single player getting meaningful time on the hardwood for Pitt has something in common: They do not come from the Stallings’ regime. They were — not to suggest that “players are property” — Dixon’s recruits.
Before we move on, quickly get in your jokes on Jeter playing at Vandy under Stallings.
There was reason before the season began to think Pittsburgh would, at the very least, be competent for this specific season because of those players, not because of who was coaching them. Dixon or Cindy Crawford could have done equally as well as Stallings has up to this point.
Still, be happy, faithful Pitt fans. Winning is winning. This start is far better than the alternative.
Oh, what’s that? That’s right. We almost forgot to mention that Pitt’s six wins came against teams with a combined record of 22-16. That stat is a bit misleading, because Maryland makes up for seven of those wins by themselves, with Marquette adding another four.
Outside of Maryland, the Pittsburgh Panthers have beaten the who’s who of who cares. Eastern Michigan, Gardner-Webb, Morehead State — the epitome of smart programs doing smart things by scheduling cupcakes early on in the season to leave the impression of success heading into conference play.
In fact, from now until the time conference play begins, which is six more games for the Panthers, Pitt will play another slew of mid-majors (and Penn State). Things should continue to look splendid for the team, even if it is a scheduling magic trick to make people believe they are more awesome than the reality might be.
That’s not to say Pitt will falter come the ACC schedule. The Panthers should be fine. After all, Michael Young and company, who were all part of a team that won 21 games last season, will continue to wear the university’s uniforms on Dec. 31.
What it does say, however, is that this isn’t unlike most other college basketball programs going through a change in coaching staffs. It is different in the way such programs are evaluated.
We often need to preach patience before calling for a coach’s head on a stick at a time when that coach takes over a struggling, dysfunctional basketball program.
Here, we still need patience of a different sort — the kind that tries like hell to not anoint Stallings as the “right hire.” The sample size is small, it is all somewhat misleading, and the measure of a coach can’t be made in earnest for years.
Nevertheless, a man who once failed to capitalize on having multiple NBA players on his roster to the degree he should have (last season with Vanderbilt) has so far done fine in his new role. The expectations should have always been at this level for Pitt, regardless of who was coaching this team.
We might learn more when ACC play begins, specifically to see if Stallings can adapt to coaching against some of the sport’s best and brightest, but we’re seasons away from being able to come to an actual conclusion regarding the university’s hire of him.
The cupboards are full now. Through no one’s fault, that won’t be as much the case next season, which should give the current first-year coach a pass. Honestly, it is a cyclical situation for the Panthers. Stallings is winning with another guy’s guys. His will come in, but not immediately, and their impact can’t realistically be felt for another two to three seasons.
It is why we — media, fans, etc. — should refrain from making positive hyperbolic claims now, because negative ones are lurking around the corner, and both of those takes can’t yet be accurate due to the situation presented.