ACC Basketball Preview: Pittsburgh

2015-16 Pittsburgh record: 21-12 (9-9 ACC)

A solid season that included three wins over Final Four participant Syracuse ended in disappointment for Pitt with a first round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Jamie Dixon left to take the job at his alma mater TCU after compiling a 328-123 overall record with 11 NCAA Tournament berths during his time with the Panthers.

Enter Kevin Stallings who compiled a 455-283 overall record at Illinois State and Vanderbilt. He’s a good coach who has a well-earned reputation for being tough and abrasive. He gets a lot of credit for having prolonged success at an SEC institution with rigorous academic standards, and to my knowledge at least, he never cut corners in that regard.

“I’m excited about my team. I really enjoy coaching the guys that I have,” Stallings said at Operation Basketball. “I inherited all of them. Haven’t recruited a single guy. That hasn’t mattered. They’ve accepted me with open arms, and I’ve been very grateful for that.”

Stallings inherited quite a bit of proven talent in the Panthers’ excellent senior class.

Jamel Artis and Michael Young are the two stars who lead the way. Young averaged 11.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last season en route to third team All-ACC honors as a forward. He’s started 102 of 103 career games during his Pitt career. Artis meanwhile averaged 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season and will see time at point guard this season in order to get the best lineup on the floor.

“He’s an excellent ball handler, an excellent passer. He has great size and great feet, especially for a guy his size,” Stallings said.

Anchoring the Panther efforts down low is Sheldon Jeter who averaged 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 18.6 minutes per game a year ago. 6’9″ junior forward Ryan Luther will hope to help some as well and Pittsburgh will hope for a contribution from 6’11”, 300-pound junior college transfer Rozelle Nix who sat out last season with a foot injury.

Freshman Corey Manigault will provide some more depth primarily on the wing, but he has the size at 6’8″, 230 to play some in the frontcourt. He’s the nephew of New York City playground legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault, which is a ‘fun fact’ you will hear on every broadcast.

Part of the motivation of moving Jamel Artis to the point is to get redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson on the floor at the same time. Johnson shot 37.5 percent from outside and flashed his true potential with a career-high 24 points during a victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament.

The schedule will not be kind to Pitt with non-conference games with SMU, Yale, Buffalo, #25 Maryland, and a holiday tournament date with either Marquette or Michigan at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers drew the short straw in ACC play as well with two games against #6 North Carolina, #8 Virginia, #13 Louisville, and #19 Syracuse. There’s also a road trip to #1 Duke. That’s as unreasonable a schedule as I’ve seen.

Pitt may well be a better team than last season and end up with a worse record. Pittsburgh has a chance to be a solid club without a ton of drop-off from the Jamie Dixon era, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario where the Panthers can make a lot of headway in year one with such a loaded conference slate.

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