The talent level needed
By Chris Dokish
I've been try to convey to Pitt fans recently how Pitt's talent is not comparable to the truly elite programs, and by that I mean the programs that could bring in the talent that keeps them in the national championship race for most years. I know very optimistic Pitt fans like to think the talent level is high and they point out top 100 prospects as proof. The truth is, however, that top 100 prospects are far from rare and a lot of teams lesser than Pitt have them. What the truly talented teams have are top 50 prospects. That's where you separate the men from the boys, and that's where you can see Pitt's lack of elite overall talent. That doesn't mean that Pitt still doesn't do a great job or have good players over the years. In fact, Jamie Dixon and his staffs over the years have done a remarkable job getting everything out of the talent they do get. They have beaten the likes of UConn and Duke over the years, two programs with much more individual talent, and have won a ton of games and dominated the Big East, especially in the conference tournament. But the program, as it recruits now, is still a notch below the elite programs.
And I'm no even talking about this season, in which less than stellar recruiting has put the team in a bad spot for the first time in many years. But that was bound to happen eventually when a program such as Pitt needs a high level of their prospects to live up to their potential to have a winning team, and do not have the high number of elite recruits to cover for any misses. In other words, a DeJuan Blair can cover for taking five projects on the front court, as Pitt has done. Without a player of Blair's ability, those projects are exposed. In the programs that recruit at a higher level, if a player of Blair's ability leaves early, they usually have at least one, if not more, elite prospects to take his place. The truth is, it's remarkable that without the elite recruiting that the Panthers have gone this long without it happening already, but that's what happened when Blair left early. Blair proved to be a double edged sword. His individual excellence helped Pitt be the most successful they've ever been, but it also led him to leave early, thus exposing the program's recent recruiting misses as well as the huge gap between what Blair and Young was, and what was left after they were gone. Yes, the current Pitt team is too young to be highly successful this season, but lack of talent is an even bigger problem. it's highly unlikely that anybody on the current team will ever come close to being Blair or Young. But that doesn't mean some, like Taylor, Ashton Gibbs, and Lamar Patterson can't still be good players and help the next group try to reclaim Pitt's previous standards.
Let's look at the talent needed to both get to the Final Four and to win the national championship over the last seven seasons. The average number of top 50 recruits on the roster for an average Final Four team is FOUR. The average number of top 50 prospects on the roster for the winner of the national championship is an incredible 5.6!! To put that in perspective, in the entire seven year span Pitt has had only TWO such players, DeJuan Blair and Dante Taylor, and never more than one at a time. Sam Young was ranked in the 50s, so for the sake of argument let's say that Pitt had one and a half last season. The result was that Pitt came closer then they ever have to reaching the Final Four, losing to Villanova on a last second shot. Incidentally, Villanova had three top 50 prospects, including Scottie Reynolds, who just happened to be the player who made that last second shot. Pitt was the best they ever were, especially with one of the top Big East players ever in Blair, and the Panthers were still one elite player short. The gap between Blair and Young, and the rest of the team was huge. One more player of their ability would almost assuredly get them to the Final Four, and maybe beyond. That's the good news in all of this. And that's that Dixon nearly went to the Final Four with just two elite talents and not much else. This should tell any reasonable person that if Dixon can ever get three elite talents, he is a great enough of a coach to not only go to the Final Four, but maybe beyond. But that's only if the recruiting gets better, which just may be happening
The best case scenario for the near future is that Taylor lives up to his potential, and Isaiah Epps, J.J. Moore, and John Johnson live up to their potentials. Of the latter three, Moore and Johnson have a chance to be consensus top 50 prospects, and I've been told that Epps has NBA potential. That could be enough elite talent in a few years to get Pitt back to Final Four potential. But even if they don't all reach their potential, they should still get back to winning a lot of games and getting into the Sweet 16 with this group.
Of course when Pitt's lack of Final Four talent comes up, somebody will always bring up George Mason. But that's simply citing the exception as the rule. In the seven year span Georgia Tech also would be considered a Cinderella team, though not as much as George Mason. But even including those two, that means there have been two Cinderella teams out of 28 teams total. That means less than 10% of Final Four teams are Cinderella teams. In other words, Pitt has a better chance of getting three top 50 players and having them perform great. I did not include Marquette as a CInderella team, despite having just one top 50 prospect because they also had Dwayne Wade, one of the best basketball players ever and a future NBA Hall of Famer. The chances of having such a player is even less than 10% and is not even worth discussing because it's such a long shot.
Here is the list of top 50 prospects on the last 28 Final Four teams. The list is taken from rscihoops.com, which takes various top 100 lists and combines them into one. I chose this list because it is the most fair and likely the most accurate.
*North Carolina 10 (Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson, Tyler Hansborough, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor,)
Michigan State 7 (Delvon Roe, Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, Raymar Morgan, Tom Herzog, Marquise Gray)
UConn 5 (Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien)
Villanova 3 (Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes)
North Carolina 8 (Tyson Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Alex Stephenson, Deon Thompson, Tyler Hansborough, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor)
*Kansas 7 (Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun)
Memphis 3 (Derrick Rose, Willie Kemp, Chris Douglas-Roberts,)
UCLA 2 (Kevin Love, James Keefe)
Ohio State 5 (Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley, David Lighty, Ivan Harris)
*Florida 3 (Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Chris Richard)
UCLA 3 (James Keefe, Ryan Wright, Aaron Afflalo)
Georgetown 2 (Vernon Macklin, DaJuan Summers)
LSU 4 (Tasmin Mitchell, Magnum Rolle, Glen Davis, Taurean Minor)
UCLA 3 (Jordan Farmar, Aaron Afflalo, Ryan Wright)
*Florida 3 (Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Chris Richard)
George Mason 0
*North Carolina 7 (Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott)
Michigan State 4 (Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson) 3 others ranked in 50s
Illinois 3 (Richard McBride, Dee Brown, Deron Williams)
Louisville 3 (Juan Diego Palacios, Brian Johnson, Brandon Jenkins)
Duke 8 (Luol Deng, Sheldon Williams, J.J. Redick, Shavlick Randolph, Sean Dockery, Michael Thompson, Daniel Ewing, Chris Duhon)
*UConn 6 (Charlie Villanueva, Marcus Williams, Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, Ben Gordon, Taliek Brown)
Oklahoma State 2 (Ivan McFarlin, Terrance Crawford)
Georgia Tech 1 (Jarrett Jack) 9 losses
Texas 4 (Brad Buckman, T.J. Ford, Brian Boddicker, Brandon Mouton)
*Syracuse 3 (Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Billy Edelin)
Kansas 3 (Aaron Miles, Wayne Simien, Nick Collison)
Marquette 2 (Travis Diener, Robert Jackson)