I’ve said it a few times already this year, but head coach Jamie Dixon has done a really good job of maximizing the potential of this current Pittsburgh Panthers roster. That’s not to say that guys won’t improve, especially the talented freshman trio, just that Dixon is getting every ounce of production from his players in their current state.
Here’s the problem though, that ceiling isn’t very high. Since the turn of the century, no team has won the NCAA Tournament without having an NBA-caliber player on it prior to winning it all. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute to think of one. Can’t do it? Here’s the list:
Michigan State (2000) – Morris Peterson – Mateen Cleaves helped his cause by being the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Duke (2001) – Shane Battier – scouts already loved that guy.
Maryland (2002) – Chris Wilcox – when NBA team’s prioritized athleticism over discernible basketball skills…oh wait that still happens. Steve Blake is still in the league for what it’s worth.
Syracuse (2003) – Carmelo Anthony – there isn't a lot to say, although, Hakim Warrick eventually became a first rounder.
UCONN (2004) – Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon – I remember when Pitt beat them at the ‘Pete’ that year.
UNC (2005) – Sean May, Raymond Felton, and Rashad McCants – definitely first-round guys going into the tourney, May helped himself the most.
Florida (2006 & 2007) – Joakhim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer – all were first-round locks (maybe not Brewer) but elected to stay one more year.
Kansas (2008) – Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur – health concerns right around the draft hurt Arthur’s stock.
UNC (2009) – Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington – also had talented freshman in Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller.
Duke (2010) – Eight Plumlees, just kidding, this actually is the one team that didn’t have a first round pick that year – they all stayed (Singler and Smith may have been).
UCONN (2011) – Kemba Walker…yeah, Panther fans remember that guy, and so does Gary McGhee.
Kentucky (2012) – Anthony Davis, MKG, Terrence Jones, and Marquis Teague – not fair.
Louisville (2013) – The strongest case for a team with no first-round locks leading up to the tournament. A case could be made for Gorgui Dieng, with Blackshear as a bubble guy.
Now, a lot of those guys increased their draft stock by winning the NCAA Tournament, how could they not? With that said, no one climbed the draft boards from second-round/undrafted to lottery pick. The two exceptions, Duke (2010) and Louisville (2013), had talent-laden rosters full of former McDonald’s All-Americans that happened to stay longer.
Pitt doesn’t have anyone on their roster like the aforementioned players, and I’d argue that alone will prevent them from hearing One Shining Moment come April – unless their watching it on television.
The Panthers are a very good team, but they lack NBA talent. Currently, ESPN draft expert Chad Ford has senior forward Lamar Patterson ranked as the 115th best player in this year's draft class (ESPN Insider only). That is the equivalent to a late fourth-round selection, five spots from the last pick (30 NBA teams). The problem is that there are only two rounds in the NBA draft.
Look, getting McDonald's All-Americans doesn't guarantee post-season success, after all, Dante Taylor and Khem Birch certainly didn't lead Pitt to the Promised Land. With that said, maximizing the potential of kids over four or five years with relatively low ceilings won't move the needle either.