The Jackets have things rolling as they hit the road Saturday to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers. Anson Whaley from Cardiac Hill was kind enough to sit down with us and give us his insight on what to expect when the Panthers and Jackets meet on Saturday afternoon.
FTRS: As was mostly expected, the Panthers have struggled so far this season. How are fans dealing with the results and what is the general vibe around the program?
The Panthers are clearly struggling and, as you might expect, the fans aren’t real thrilled. Almost everyone expected this to be a down season but, at times, Pitt has not even been competitive. They suffered an ugly loss earlier this year to Penn State and were just beaten by Duke at home by 35. As I wrote in the comments section of a post recently, it’s one thing to lose and another to get absolutely blown out. The vibe around the program is virtually non-existent. Attendance, which had been an increasing problem the last few years, is at all-time lows for the program since moving into the Peterson Events Center about 15 years ago. There simply isn’t much interest aside from the diehards.
FTRS: Earlier this week, Ryan Luther was ruled out for the rest of the season. Where will the impact of his loss be felt the most?
Probably on the glass and on offense. Luther was easily the team’s best rebounder prior to his injury and no one else was even close. But I think Pitt also misses him on offense, too. He’s not a superstar but there’s no real flow on the offensive end. Pitt seems content to jack up threes early in games and, having no desire to try to work the ball inside, has fallen behind and also been forced later in games to take more of them. Pitt could use an experienced player in there to help guide the team and help get more going. Like I said, he’s not a superstar. But he’s a very experienced player that could be a reasonable No. 3 guy on a good team, so he’s obviously missed. Pitt’s freshmen and younger players will need to grow up in a hurry the rest of the year. The season is lost but what these guys can do is try to establish some sort of flow on offense for next season.
FTRS: How are fans feeling about Kevin Stallings halfway through his second season?
I’m not sure much as changed regarding thoughts on head coach Kevin Stallings. The ones that previously wanted him gone still do and most of the ones that think he deserves more time probably still believe that way. I don’t think you’ll find many people downright enthusiastic about Stallings, though. It’s really more of fans wanting him gone or merely being willing to give him a chance. Fans also realize that Pitt is somewhat in a predicament with several more years remaining on his current deal and that firing him this soon would have financial repercussions. But at the end of the day, if he isn’t the guy, you’d rather rebuild sooner rather than later.
FTRS: The Panthers have been rolling with an unprecedented all freshmen starting lineup and over the last five games, freshmen have gotten nearly 70% of the minutes. What’s the reasoning behind this and how does this group of freshmen project over the next few seasons?
Simply put, there are no other options. Pitt had two seniors coming into this season. One (Luther) is out for the year with an injury and the other, Jonathan Milligan, was a little-used backup. The entire team almost rolled over entirely with four of the team’s starters graduating and the fifth, Cam Johnson, transferring to North Carolina. Others on the roster, save for Luther and Milligan, also transferred out via mostly mutual departures as Stallings wasn’t of the belief that, by and large, they were prepared to play at this level. So the Panthers were forced to bring in some transfers and a gaggle of freshmen that are generally the more skilled players. These guys are playing because there are no other options.
FTRS: Who’s the player to watch night in and night out for Pitt and who is a possible x-factor in Saturday’s game?
Pitt’s biggest x-factor right now is probably guard Jared Wilson-Frame. He’s proven both capable of keeping Pitt in games and shooting them out of it. He shoots too much for my liking and, despite coming off the bench, almost always leads the team in that category. I’m convinced he has a pretty open green light from Stallings despite his shooting woes much of the time. But when he’s on, he’s capable of getting to the basket or connecting from outside and is one of the few guys on the team you can ask to try to go out and make a play. I don’t know that he’s Pitt’s best player with Luther being out but he’s maybe the biggest factor of whether they win or lose depending on what he does any given game.
FTRS: What is your prediction for this one? Who wins? What’s the score? And why?
It’s way too hard to expect Pitt to win an ACC game. I suspect they might be able to steal one or two but trying to pick which one is like flying blind. Tech has some issues, so if this was one Pitt won, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the world. But I’ll say something like 67-60, Georgia Tech.
Many thanks to Anson for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out some Pitt coverage over at Cardiac Hill.