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Analysis: No simple answers for Kevin Stallings, Pitt basketball

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, 3:42 p.m.
Louisville's Darius Perry defends on Pitt's Terrell Brown in the first half Sunday, Feb. 10, 2018, Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Louisville's Darius Perry defends on Pitt's Terrell Brown in the first half Sunday, Feb. 10, 2018, Petersen Events Center.

After the loss to Boston College, Kevin Stallings' voice rose slightly, his agitation showing.

Out of character? A little. Inappropriate? Absolutely not. It was Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center, and Pitt had just lost 81-58 to a team that was 0-19 against ACC teams only two years ago.

He didn't like the way he answered a previous question about a failure to use a timeout, even though he candidly admitted he probably needed one to check a Boston College run late in the first half.

“I'll take one more question since I answered that one so poorly,” he said. The final question was about his players perhaps shouldering some responsibility for the 14-game losing streak Pitt (8-19, 0-14) will carry into Florida State on Sunday night.

He understood why the question was asked, but it prompted him to defend his players, most of whom never played in the ACC before this season. He is painfully aware the loss of senior Ryan Luther to a season-ending foot injury has taken a toll on his young team.

“We don't have an example right now, and that's not their fault,” Stallings said.

He said it was unacceptable for his front-court players to go the entire game without an offensive rebound.

“But I'm just going to say that's on me,” he said. “I have to do more in practice to get them there. I haven't done my job if I look (on the stat sheet) and we have two offensive rebounds.

“I tell them all the time, ‘Look in the mirror and talk to yourself first. Check yourself first before you start checking others.' I'm going to try and practice what I preach.

“Little better with that answer. See ya,” he said, getting up to leave.

Stallings, who was conscious of his abruptness and maybe a bit sorry for it, hadn't reached the door when he turned and said, “Thank you. Not trying to be a (jerk). Little frustrated.”

Who could blame him?

Trying to affix blame for what could turn into the worst season in Pitt basketball history — if the Panthers remain winless in the ACC — is not a difficult task.

Just don't leave out anyone.

Front and center is Stallings, the well-compensated coach in charge of everything that happens within the program.

Don't forget, he has lost with freshmen and seniors at Pitt. His team last year had four seniors in the starting lineup but finished 5-15 in the ACC.

Jamie Dixon left him almost nothing beyond those seniors, and then Pitt unexpectedly lost Cam Johnson to North Carolina (can't blame the kid for wanting to transfer to a winner) and Luther.

Players and coaches have not responded well to adversity. The Panthers are 308th of 351 schools in turnovers (14.8 per game) and 331st in rebounding (31.9), indicating there are serious problems getting the ball and securing it after they get it.

Stallings was hired by former athletic director Scott Barnes, who left nine months later. That didn't help, but the decision to hire Stallings was not a popular one, anyway. Pitt fans wanted a bigger name, but considering the roster Dixon left behind, that might not have been realistic.

After Stallings' first season, Pitt lost 10 players: Four exhausted their eligibility, five transferred and one was dismissed. As a result, he did three years worth of recruiting in six months.

Did he lure the right players? Most of the freshmen aren't ready for the rigors of the ACC, and it's difficult to imagine Pitt being significantly better next season. To be fair, however, the return of Luther and the expected growth of some others offer hope.

Will Stallings return? He won't if Pitt is desperate enough to buy out the remaining four years of his contract. Average attendance for the first seven ACC games at the Pete is 5,034. That's embarrassing considering the heights the program reached under Ben Howland and Dixon.

But will a new coach make Pitt an immediate contender in the ACC and cause attendance to double? Where would athletic director Heather Lyke find such a magician?

If Stallings is fired, Lyke should have a ready replacement in mind. Under the circumstances, getting turned down would not paint a favorable picture of the program.

A school or even a professional team should give a new coach at least three years. Stallings, a good coach and a decent man who worked hard to nail down his recruiting class, needs four.

What he needs more than anything is a patient fan base (impossible) and an even more patient administration.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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