Discussion: ACC Romps in NCAA’s and Pitt Hires a Coach

Today managing editor Justin Cates and associate editor Mike McDaniel discuss the ACC’s Sunday night Easter feast, but not before we give some opinions about Pittsburgh’s new head coach.

Justin Cates

The Panthers announced Sunday morning that they have hired longtime Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to replace Jamie Dixon who left to coach at his alma mater TCU. The choice for his replacement landed with a resounding thud and left everyone from Pitt fans to the entirety of the college basketball press corps scratching their heads. Stallings compiled a 332–220 overall record at Vanderbilt, but fans had grown restless especially after a loss in the NCAA Tournament play-in game this season after many observers didn’t even think Vanderbilt deserved a bid. One poll of Vandy fans on The Tennesean website had 76% of respondents (2,732 votes) in favor of making a change and somehow Stallings parlayed that into getting a better job. This remember is the same guy who can barely control himself on the sidelines and once infamously screamed at one of his own players, “I’ll (expletive) kill you.”

Kudos to Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes for alienating his entire fanbase by replacing the school’s second winningest coach in Jamie Dixon with a rageaholic who posted a 138–142 record in the SEC. What are your thoughts on this stunning hire Mike?
Mike McDaniel

It was absolutely baffling to me and does not make a single shred of sense. Of all the places Pitt could have gone with this hire, they went with Kevin Stallings? Let’s face it, the guy couldn’t win consistently in an inferior conference to the ACC, so what did Scott Barnes see in Stallings that made him think that he would have better success at Pittsburgh? All I’ve heard today is that Stallings will bring a more up-tempo and exciting brand of basketball. If that’s the case, then why didn’t Pitt go for a guy like Andy Enfield? Enfield’s teams play up-tempo, he’s a much better coach, and he’s from Pennsylvania.

With all of that being said, Stallings did make a few solid moves in his first day on the job. He offered a job on his staff to Brandin Knight, a bright, up-and-coming holdover from Jamie Dixon’s staff, got to work convincing forward Sheldon Jeter (who transferred from Vandy originally) to stay on board, and offered a scholarship to four-star point guard Aaron Thompson, who is a member of the 2017 class.

The fan base is disgusted by the hire. However, Stallings just signed a six-year pact, so it’ll be interesting to see how long of a leash the athletic department will be willing to give him with fans and boosters as boisterous about this hire as they have been today.
Justin Cates

Yeah that up-tempo style thing is a curious way to sell this given the reality of the Stallings tenure at Vanderbilt.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next couple of seasons.

On to the ACC teams that didn’t lose in the first round. The ACC has made a whole heck of a lot of money and with an 18-5 record in this tournament they’ve clearly shown which is the best conference this season. With a Syracuse-North Carolina national semifinal, the conference will break the all-time record for most wins by one conference in a single tournament set by the Big East in 1985. Carolina has proven that the hype surrounding them is well-earned while Syracuse continues to make fools of sportswriters everywhere isn’t that right Mike?
Mike McDaniel

Absolutely. Syracuse has been pretty incredible. They are a team that definitely did not deserve to make the field, but by the same token they are as deserving as any team in the field to make the Final Four. The 25-4 spurt down the stretch to beat Virginia was Jim Boeheim at his best. The Cavaliers were comfortable bringing the ball down the court without pressure, but as soon as Syracuse pressed and sped up the game, it was clear that Virginia was out of their comfort zone. When Virginia controls the tempo, they are one of the best teams in the country. When they don’t, they get themselves beaten by inferior opponents.

As for North Carolina, the difference of late has been Marcus Paige. He’s finally shooting the ball up to his capability, which hadn’t been the case for a good portion of the season. When opposing defenses have to maul Paige outside of the three point line, the offense is opened up on the interior for guys like Brice Johnson, who feast off the mid-range jump shot. Notre Dame had a great season, but they ran into a buzzsaw in the Tar Heels. The Irish did a solid job in the first half keeping it close, especially when considering the fact that Zach Auguste sat for a majority of the first half in foul trouble. Demetrius Jackson and V.J. Beachem were catalysts for the Notre Dame offense, but it’s always tough when you have to trade baskets with North Carolina.

Kudos to the Heels in the second half for turning up the heat on defense and crashing the boards. The rebounding discrepancy in the end was massive, and a big reason for it was the second half surge on the glass by Roy Williams’ squad.

When looking ahead to the match-up next weekend with Syracuse and North Carolina in the National Semifinal, what do you think the key(s) to the game will be, Cates?
Justin Cates

It will be imperative for Syracuse to find a way to limit North Carolina’s rebounding dominance that you alluded to. They outrebounded Notre Dame 32-15 Sunday and you can’t allow a team that already shoots the lights out to have second chance opportunities like that. Tyler Roberson has to stay out of foul trouble for the Orange which he did in the first three rounds of this tournament. He’s basically good for a double-double every time out, and given the lack of post depth (or any depth) for ‘Cuse, they’ll need him to perform yet again if they have any hope of making the championship game.

North Carolina is just terrific. As good as Kansas is, I thought the Tar Heels had a legitimate claim to be the tournament’s top overall seed and they’ve certainly looked like it to this point. They run the floor like you’d expect a Roy Williams team to do, they have a number of strong shooters, and they have size in the post. Brice Johnson set a North Carolina record with his 23rd double-double of the season against the Irish after scoring 25 points and hauling in 12 rebounds and he presents a match up nightmare for Roberson and DaJuan Coleman down low. It’s hard to see the Orange pulling off the upset, but we’ve been saying that since they made the dance. Momentum and mental toughness have to count for something, but how much?
Mike McDaniel

It’s funny, North Carolina seemed to be the consensus number one team in the nation at the beginning of the season, but they really struggled defensively and with their shooting for a good portion of the schedule. Truthfully, they were able to get by from being long and athletic for a good portion of the season, and now that they are finally playing up to their potential, they are scary good. If Syracuse wants to hang at all in this game on Saturday against the Tar Heels, they will have to shoot the three-ball like they have been over their last couple of games. Trevor Cooney will be key both offensively with his outside game, as well as defensively with the pressure at the top of the zone that he will help put on Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Nate Britt. If the Orange can knock down some shots, they can absolutely stay competitive in this game, but if they don’t, Carolina can roll due to the deadly mid-range game of Brice Johnson in the middle of that Syracuse zone. It’ll be an exciting match up of two storied basketball programs, but I like North Carolina to win and advance to the National Championship.

Thanks for following along with our back-and-forth. Follow us on Twitter @BestCates and @MikeMcDanielACC. Like Inside The ACC on Facebook and check out @InsideTheACC.

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