This entry was written by a reader - not the staff of Cardiac Hill
Over the course of the season, one thing has become very clear, and that is that the current basketball team has not performed to their potential. While most people blame Stallings, which isn't a wrong thing to do, there's another big piece that most have significantly overlooked. Losing James Robinson.
I get it, Robinson wasn't the flashiest guard in the league, he was an average shooter, average defender, he wasn't a player that you looked at and thought, this guy could really carry the team. However, he was the piece of this roster that really held the team together. He was the vocal leader on the floor during the games. He kept everyone going when things didn't go well and kept the team on track. He took care of the ball superbly. How many times this year have turnovers snowballed poor situations into worse ones? Robinson was always consistent at taking care of the ball and leading the court. No one this year has stepped up to that role. This year's team is quieter and leads through example; a good trait to have, but without a big voice out there getting everyone on track, ultimately has severe limitations.
The two areas people have latched onto are the players effort and Stallings poor coaching decisions. Stallings coaching I will not be discussing Stallings coaching because I think we've all had enough on that debate for a little while. For all of you who have watched this team through this tough season, if you still believe that these players don't care, and that they aren't putting in the effort then you haven't been watching very closely. Through each tough game, each tough play, every tough break, the players have shown signs of distress, signs of being upset with the results of the play, of the game. This isn't new either, has happened all the time they've played at Pitt. Difference between this year and last being the presence of JR. With JR on the court, he would always get the guys refocused, get them into position and help them push forward. When you look at the close games Pitt has lost this season, it has always come down the stretch and the team not making the right play to come out on top. How many times did Robinson do this last year? A few at least, Wake Forest hitting a 3 to tie the game to go to OT and later hitting FT to go to 2OT. FSU hit a game tying 3 in the final 5 minutes after trailing most of the game. ACC tourney hitting the final baskets to halt Syracuse's comeback, similar to how this team has blown many games this year. Even though they lost this game, against Miami hit a big 3 to tie the game in the final minute. Point is, last year down the stretch, JR would pretty consistently come up big, making the plays to get the shot or to get his teammates in position to succeed. Artis and Young as talented as they are offensively have proven time and again that they cannot do what Robinson did with regularity; keep his cool at the end of games, play smart, and keep the game under control. Lets take games against Clemson, Notre Dame, NC State, VTech, Wake Forest, UNC on the road, GT on the road; all these games were close down the stretch, most of them Pitt was in front a good amount of the game. Most of the games Pitt had a chance to win in the last couple of possessions, but failed in each instance to make the big play. Even if half those games listed go in Pitt's favor, there's a good chance they make the tourney or at least can play into it without winning the ACC tourney. With a presence like Robinson's there chances to take any of those games greatly increases.
As much as Stallings can prepare the team, or fail to do so, when the players are on the court Stallings can't do much more to help. This is where having a floor leader is so crucial. This is the area that Pitt really suffered with this past season, and I'm confident that the record would be much different, even with Stallings as coach, if we had JR an extra year or if someone was able to step into that role.
Its frustrating to see this season end this way, but given the roster set up, despite the talent present, the floor leadership among the players was never there, and the team likely would've struggled similarly under Dixon. Let me know what you guys think in the comments, I'd love to discuss more!