Pitt came into tonight's game a very much expected underdog. While they kept things close for a while, ultimately they didn't have enough, falling to Virginia, 75-63.
The loss drops the Panthers to 16-17 and gives the team a losing record after the conference tournament for the first time this century. Pitt could go on to play in another CBI or something to get their final record over .500 but you get the point. This was a bad year for the program.
While a miserable season, I don't think the team was particularly bad tonight. This was a classic example of simply being beaten by a better team. Virginia played pretty well and Pitt not only needed to be better but probably have the Cavaliers have a bit of an off night to pull off an upset. The overwhelming theme for tonight was that Pitt was decent, but not good enough. They fought back a few times to cut the lead to three and that was admirable. This was not a team that went down without a fight. But, on this night, they (unsurprisingly) didn't have enough to beat a very good team - and that's nothing to necessarily be ashamed of.
There isn't much point in breaking down this game much since that's about the sum of it. But I do think it's worth taking a short look back on the year as a whole with the team out of the ACC Tournament.
One thing that was really tough to watch this year was that head coach Kevin Stallings completely lost this team. I mentioned during the game in the open thread was that his body language was absolutely terrible at times, as it has been all year. There was one point where he looked completely exasperated and out of options.
Of course, technically he was.
Stallings' relationship with his better players quickly deteriorated this year and without much of a bench, he didn't even have any real opportunity to try different players. Ryan Luther was injured for a good chunk of the ACC season. The top guard off the bench, Justice Kithcart, was dismissed earlier. There is just zero depth on this team and while that certainly isn't Stallings' fault as a first-year coach, I remain perplexed that he got as little out of this team simply because they returned so much production from last year in making the NCAA Tournament.
Along the lines of few options, one thing that folks should also remember is that Luther's return didn't exactly make the team any better. He returned for the Panthers' final four games this year and was really only effective in one of them - a modest seven-point, three-rebound effort in the loss to Virginia last week. He had one combined point in the other three games to go along with six turnovers. Sure, there's a little bit of shaking some of the rust off, etc. But for those thinking that his presence would have guaranteed more wins this season, I'm not so sure. Since the ACC season began, Luther has not been all that effective.
Add it all up, and this was really a five-man team if you take the entire season into account. That's not to say that Stallings shouldn't have gotten more out of his bench but I'm also not putting this year 100% on him, either. That isn't realistic or even close to fair.
Longer term, I maintain that the way Stallings has interacted with his players this season is problematic for the future. Yes, the guys with whom he has seemingly feuded are moving on. And yes, the roster will change over a ton next season. Perhaps things change once he has his own players. But at the end of the day, that Stallings could not only not get more out of this group, but also refrain from throwing them under the bus on a few occasions doesn't give me a great feeling for what lies ahead. Coaches have to find a way to effectively manage his players and in that category, Stallings deserves a hard F. If he's to return, I hope this isn't something we see next season.
It is fair to assume that perhaps that style works with some players. Perhaps, players can be motivated to improve using those methods. But after such a bad season, it's safe to say that didn't work with this group of players and if nothing else, if that was Stallings' motivation in making some of the comments about his players, he played that hand poorly.
Stallings may very well be back next year - most would even call it likely due to the position Pitt is in with his contract. But the amount of leash he is given with the new athletics director, whoever that may be, will be something to watch.