Taking a welcome break from football season, I had the chance to do a Q&A with ESPN's Sean Farnham about the upcoming basketball season for Pitt. Farnham played at UCLA, so I of course had to ask the obligatory Ben Howland question. See his thoughts below on the upcoming ACC season for the Panthers.
After missing the tournament in 2011-12, Pitt rebounded last season and made it. Still, the team was a mixed bag all season and was bounced in their first game against Wichita State. Do you think this team rebounds and goes further this year or do you think it will be a step back after the losses of Tray Woodall and Steven Adams?
Losing 46% of your scoring, steady leadership from Woodall and talent in Adams you expect and the fans should expect a step back especially when joining a new conference like Pitt is this year. A step back for Pitt though these days because of the great job Jamie Dixon has done is still fringe Top-25 and an upper half finish in conference play.
Not only will this be a young team, but several of the younger players will be expected to play key roles. True freshmen Mike Young and Jamel Artis are battling it out for the power forward spot and true freshman guard Josh Newkirk will get minutes in the backcourt. Starting point guard James Robinson is only a sophomore. With so many young guys expected to contribute right away, what do you think that will do to the team's chances this season?
I think it is a wait-and-see with all the young pieces. The questions that need to be answered are: 1) How do the returners blend with the younger talent coming in? 2) How consistent can the young pieces be or will there be a roller-coaster ride of inconsistency? 3) Will the more uptempo offense mean that the defense may not have same toughness and bite as in years past? The quicker these questions get answered the more accurately we can see where this program might be in March.
Steven Adams jumped to the NBA after one season, even after proclaiming he would return to Pitt. He was clearly still learning the American game even by the end of the season, but did improve as the year went on. What do you expect out of him in the NBA this year?
Steven Adams has a great deal of upside, but it may take a year or two before his real impact at the NBA is seen. He in my opinion is in the best situation he could hope for in OKC. The Thunder don't need him to be a dominant player but they need him to fill a role that could win them an NBA Championship. Watching the work ethic of a Kevin Durant can only help a young player like Steven.
You were a former player at UCLA so you know the recruiting game as well as anyone. Jamie Dixon has been criticized by some for not going deep in the NCAAs. Even beyond the disappointments for fans, though, do you think that affects his recruiting ability? Lots of things including location, playing time, etc., go into kids' decisions and every case is unique. But, in other words, do you think big time recruits are scared off by Pitt's inability to get to a Final Four despite all of the regular season success?
I think Pitt is a victim of its own success. Having a winning percentage that ranks in the top 5 nationally over the last 12 years people want Final Fours. But it is important to note that Pitt is 1 of 7 schools to advance in the NCAA tournament in 11 of the past 12 NCAA Tournaments (Others are Duke , Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, Texas and Wisconsin). Everything I mentioned above is a reason why Pitt fans want more, I get it. But look at where you are first. Understand that nationally you are relevant every year, and that this program has been stable in a very unstable time in college basketball. Kentucky had the number one recruiting class last year and missed the NCAA tournament. UCLA has hit a lull, Indiana just came out of their slump over the last couple of seasons. All the while Pitt has been rock steady.
Do you think Ben Howland's time had run out in UCLA or do you think he had done enough to stay on? As a former Pitt coach, he's still followed quite a bit by fans out this way. What do you see in his immediate future with the ability to get a top job perhaps out of reach right now?
Coach Howland did so many great things at UCLA and it was hard to see a Coach of his talent be let go after winning the Conference title.
But the lack of NCAA tournament success was below the standards right or wrong that UCLA has set for itself. I as an alum of the program am grateful for his leadership, taking the program back to 3 Final Fours and will tell you as many Pitt fans know he is a great X's and O's tactician. I expect Coach Howland to enjoy this season with his family and then be a top candidate for major jobs next year.
Pitt moves to the ACC this season and, as you would expect, most fans are excited. With the addition of Pitt, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, and Louisville next season, the ACC will be the cream of the crop in college basketball, right?
No question that the ACC will be year in and year out the top conference in the country.
Do you think Pitt's style of play will carry over to the ACC? In the Big East, it was a little easier to be physical and it's going to be interesting to see how the referees call the games with three former Big East teams making their home in the new conference this season.
I think the physical nature of the game will not change. There will be an edge, a toughness that is needed to win in the ACC just like there was in the Big East. The offense though overall in the ACC is a little more fluid and expect Pitt to change and turn up the tempo at that end of the floor.
You were an assistant coach at Pepperdine before jumping into broadcasting. Any desire to ever go back the bench?
No I love where I am at with ESPN. Covering College basketball allows me to scout, study breakdown every team I cover yet at the end of the season I get come home to my wife and three children and not have to worry about hitting the road trying to land a top 50 prospect.
Your charity Hoops from Home really does good work. Can you explain a little about what it is and how it got started?
First off thanks for asking...It is a huge passion of mine...Hoops from Home is my non-profit that looks to bring high level basketball camps/clinics to military children free of charge. In our first year we ran 4 events and now are focused on fundraising to sustain our success. I encourage your readers to got to hoopsfromhome.org and read more and if so moved any donation would be appreciated. (Donation button on the website will lead you where to give)