It has been a trying inaugural season for Kevin Stallings at Pittsburgh. Despite having a top-50 offense, the Panthers hover with a .500 record and have won just four league games.
Jamel Artis and Michael Young have been brilliant, and Cam Johnson has produced as well, but a lack of depth and balance has crippled a top-heavy team.
Pitt has struggled defensively, and that is an understatement. According to KenPom.com, the Panthers ranked 139th in the nation in defensive efficiency: 103.1 points per 100 possessions. They have struggled in all capacities, but one glaring aspect may have caused larger issues: a lack of turnover creation. Per KenPom, Pitt’s defense ranks No. 345 in opponent turnover rate; the team forced just 14.4 turnovers per 100 plays in the regular season. In total, Pitt’s opponents coughed the ball up just 307 times.
Not only are turnovers empty possessions for opponents, but they can also result in higher-percentage buckets on the other end, which is what complicated things for the Panthers. According to Synergy Sports, Pitt ranked No. 69 in the nation and No. 6 in the ACC in offensive efficiency in transition. Pittsburgh, led by Artis and Young, scored 1.11 points per possession in transition and shot 54.5 percent from the field.
These numbers exceed that of offensive stalwarts Notre Dame, Duke and North Carolina. Pitt played with a razor-thin rotation; the Panthers simply could not afford Young and Artis to get into foul trouble. That being the case — perhaps Pitt had to focus more on staying in front of the opposition and boxing out. Gambling for steals may have been too risky.
Basketball is a game of give and take; a drop in production in one capacity will cause something else to crater. It is all interconnected. A lack of depth forces a team to play less aggressively on defense, which can in turn damage its offense. That is the beauty of sports.
However, I am not so sure Pitt supporters find this aesthetically pleasing, especially as the careers of Artis and Young come to a conclusion. Pittsburgh basketball starts a new chapter next season; with it hopefully comes a stronger and more aggressive approach on the defensive side of the ball.