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NEWSFLASH: Pitt is not Kentucky

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Pitt wraps up a bad season, and it is not the end of the world.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt lost to North Carolina State last night 81-70 in the first round of the ACC Tournament.  The loss was the team's fourth in a row, and it sets their record at 19-14 on the season.

The Panthers may or may not go to the NIT next week, and Pitt may not do well in that tournament even if they do go. But during the game and and following it, the overflow of tweets and comments from all outlets of social media were flowing as fast as I type this article.  Some of the comments ultimately led me to write this article.

I want to make this very clear: Jamie Dixon is not on any sort of hot seat right now.

It would probably take about two or three more seasons exactly like this one or worse for him to start looking over his shoulder.  Coaches that take teams to ten tournaments in 12 seasons, win two Big East titles, own the highest winning percentage in Big East history, win national coach of the year awards in three separate seasons, and reach 300 career wins faster than many Hall of Fame coaches kind of buy themselves some credit, which is quite understandable.

So I think we are all on the same page, firing Jamie Dixon following this season is about as radical of hot takes as they come. Yet still some people think that's a viable option.

A friend of mine, who is a Penn State fan, recently asked me, "Do Pitt fans know how stupid they are for wanting to fire Dixon?"  It's hard to disagree with that line of thinking.

Now, for those that think Dixon needs to be watched a little more closely, I can buy into that.  Like any supporter of the Pitt program, I don't want seasons like this to happen ever.  I want Dixon to pull in better recruits, I want to see them win compete for conference titles, I want them to be ranked, and I want success in March.  The program as a whole has had a few setbacks in recent years, and the transition to the ACC has not been all that smooth.  Some things need to change, but a coaching change isn't one of those.

Pitt is not a Kentucky, Duke, or North Carolina. They are not one of the long esteemed programs of college basketball. And yet, people are holding Pitt to those same expectations, and that is hardly realistic.  If you are ready to jump ship because of this season, that right there proves you are thinking Pitt should be one of the great programs of college basketball.  I want to remind you of a few things.

  • Pitt does not have a good home recruiting base: Western Pennsylvania is a poor metropolitan area for basketball recruiting.  As evidence to that, Pitt's best player Mike Young played his high school ball in New Jersey rather than McKeesport.  The best basketball player from the Pittsburgh area right now is Maverick Rowan, who plays high school ball in Florida. Pitt can't really count on Western PA like the football program can.
  • Elite players go to big programs. This isn't always the case, as Pitt has gotten a few five-star players here and there. But that hasn't happened all that consistently and it is a real obstacle. We always hear about how great of a recruiter Barry Rohrssen was. Well, he's pulling in big-time five-star players at Kentucky, and he didn't have that kind of success here at Pitt. Ben Howland went to UCLA and brought in Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.  They went there because it was UCLA, not because it was Ben Howland. He would not have gotten comparable recruits at Pitt. Top recruits are often going to big name programs and everyone else (even solid programs such as Pitt) have to make it work somehow.
  • Pitt has made 25 tournaments in school history. Jamie Dixon has been the head coach for ten of those seasons. Pitt has turned itself into a respectable and competitive program on their own basically because of Jamie Dixon driving the bus. The program was not built with landing five-star players and not with an storied basketball history.
So now that you have been reminded that Pitt's basketball success through the years has nothing to do with their geography or tradition at all. A new coach can come in tomorrow, and Pitt could really sink to being average or a bad program rather easily. Pitt does not have anything to fall back on except the tradition Jamie Dixon has created for himself. So I think we need to remind ourselves, if Pitt has a down year like this one, it's OK for that to happen. They shouldn't be held to the same standard as a blue-blood program.

A few things happened that led to a subpar year. First, some recruits did not work out how some thought they would have. The Panthers' Sixth Man, Durand Johnson, was suspended. Plus, most importantly, Pitt was very young. I can't remember a recent Pitt team depending on multiple sophomores as much as they did - particularly while getting so little out of the seniors. In that sense, it was a very unique year for Pitt to not have a big-time senior player.

We know Jamie Dixon can coach. Period. He has won 300 games at a high level with a roster that many good coaches would not have won with talent wise.  Dixon grinds and gets the most out of his teams. I mean, can you really picture Roy Williams earning a No. 1 seed and winning 29 games with 6'5" Nasir Robinson as his power forward? Not likely. That's not a slight at Nasir - it's to show that Dixon can build teams in a different way and be successful.

Dixon does need to make a few changes and adjust to the new league.  Pitt needs to make a move on the coaching staff and bring in another guy that can recruit better. The program carried a lot of dead weight on the roster in recent years, and it's clear they need to bring in some better talent.  I also feel they should get back to what made them so successful, and that's being tough and playing defense. Virginia is proving you can make that style work in the ACC.

The bottom line is that Pitt shouldn't be held to a ridiculous standard. A season like this happens to everyone, and since Pitt is not Kentucky (who, by the way, was in the NIT three years ago), it should be more forgivable. Also look at the bad things going on in college basketball, Pitt is not being investigated for anything right now, and I think that is something that should not be taken for granted.

Pitt was young this year and some things didn't work out with certain guys - it happens.  I just think it's crazy that we are even having these conversations.  Pitt has a lot coming back, a lot entering the fold, and they have a good coach stirring the pot.  Pitt will be fine next season, and giving Jamie Dixon that benefit of the doubt is the right thing to do. Talk to me in a few years if Pitt is still 19-14.