FanPost

Featured Fanpost: Some Bright Spots from Pitt Basketball's 2017-18 Season

This Fanpost was written by a reader - not the staff of Cardiac Hill.

Nobody could blame you for feeling awfully pessimistic about Pitt basketball after the way that ACC play has turned out for the Panthers this season.

In fact, I think the season is best summed up by Jared Wilson-Frame missing a dunk with 10 seconds left against Wake Forest that would've put Pitt back within 2 points and given them a (very small, admittedly) chance to come back to win their first ACC game of the season. Instead of safely laying the ball in, Wilson-Frame whiffed on the dunk, and Wake Forest held on to beat Pitt 63-57.

In one play, Wilson-Frame summed up the undisciplined nature of Pitt basketball during the Kevin Stallings era. This season, Pitt ranks a dismal 291st (out of 351 NCAA D-I teams) in turnovers per game (14.4). They rank 125th in personal fouls per game, with 17.7.

This has cost them in a big way. Against Wake Forest, Pitt sent the Demon Deacons to the free throw line 23 times; against Florida State, Pitt sent the Seminoles to the line to take a whopping 40 free throws. It's hard to win basketball games when you're giving your opponents so many chances at free points.

This barely scratches the surface of Pitt's rough 2017-18 campaign, but it should be abundantly clear that it hasn't been a good season. Still, it isn't all bad. Here are my top 3 takeaways the Pitt basketball season, and why I'm optimistic moving forward:

This is still a very inexperienced team

Pitt, with seven freshmen on the team this season, ranked as the team with the second least experience in all of college basketball in 2017-18. During the 2008-09 season, the Indiana Hoosiers fielded a team with 9 freshman and just one senior. They finished the season with six wins and 25 losses, and went a paltry 1-17 in Big Ten conference play. Sound familiar?

The Hoosiers suffered a couple more rough seasons before exploding during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, resulting in back-to-back seasons with AP top-10 appearances. I don't mean to imply that Pitt, who is winless in ACC play this year, will replicate this model. Still, it's a testament to the fact that a young, inexperienced, and undisciplined team can grow into a formidable squad.

After all, these freshmen have played a lot of valuable minutes against tough ACC foes this year. There is certainly hope that this experience will help this team hover around the top-five teams in the ACC in a couple of years. Pitt will not be a contender in the ACC in 2018-19, but with a strong recruiting class or two, they may not be as far away as we think (fear). I think that Pitt has an excellent recruitment pitch to give--the opportunity to rebuild a formerly proud basketball program; a team that was a perennial NCAA tournament-dweller, not so long ago.

The signing of four-star Forward Bryce Golden is a positive sign, and I'm still hopeful that they'll keep adding to the 2018 class. Keep your eyes on guards Bryce Washington from Southfield, MI, and Curtis Aiken from Wexford, PA, whose dad played ball for Pitt from 1983-1987.

The final few ACC conference games

It may not seem like it if you look at the box scores, but I actually saw some encouraging signs from the Panthers at the tail end of ACC play. As frustrating as has been the Panthers' inability to close games out in ACC play, there were some positive trends toward the end of the season that should encourage Pitt fans going into next season.

First, while Pitt has only held the lead at halftime in four ACC games all season, they actually led their opponents in each of their last three ACC contests (at home against Boston College and Wake Forest; on the road against Florida State). Obviously it would've been nice to see Pitt close these games out, but it has to be considered a step in the right direction that they've been hanging with the competition a little better as of late.

Also, Pitt's stats improved markedly over the course of ACC play. Comparing their first eight ACC games to their most recent eight ACC games, they improved markedly in turnovers (from 14.8 to 12.4 per game), assists (from 9.6 to 12.5 per game), steals (from 4.1 to 4.3 per game), and three-point percentage (from 0.304 to 0.341).

The decrease in turnovers indicates that they're taking better care of the ball, and the huge increase in assists highlights the developing chemistry between the young team. The increase in assists can also be related to better ball movement, which may explain their significant increase in three-point percentage. The three pointer has been a major reason that they've hung around in some ACC games of late, and it's been great to see the team start to set up their shots more effectively.

While this team still struggles to get the ball into (and score from) the paint, I'm encouraged by their more cohesive team play. With a full season playing together under their belts, the Panthers could surprise people with their team chemistry in 2018-19.

Parker Stewart

Finally, we should all be excited about watching Parker Stewart in Pitt's final few games this season, and again next season. Originally committed to Ole Miss, Stewart de-committed and chose to enroll at Pitt back in Jun. 2017. He has been by far the most effective shooter for Pitt in recent games, and has been incredibly fun to watch.

The freshman guard out of Union City, Tenn. started just once out of Pitt's first 12 contests, but has started each of the last 17 games. And in those 17 games, Stewart has flourished, posting a 0.413 field goal percentage buoyed by a lofty 0.422 three-point percentage, with 11.1 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Stewart's three point game has been Pitt's biggest strength these past few weeks, and he is now Pitt's all-time freshman leader in three pointers, with 63 (breaking Sean Miller's previous record of 58 back in 1987-88). Now, we should also expect to see improvement from others like Wilson-Frame, Marcus Carr, Shamiel Stevenson, and Khameron Davis. But at this moment, my bet is that Stewart will be Pitt's most valuable player next season, and I'm excited to watch him on the court in 2018-19.

While the 2017-18 season has been nothing short of an absolute dumpster fire, there are still reasons to look forward to Pitt basketball in 2018. Sure, that may not seem like much consolation for a team that is rocking a rough 0-16 record in ACC play, but we may just be talking about a very different team one year from now.