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Four games into the season, Ejuan Price is Pitt's Most Valuable Player

Much of this season has been spent complaining about a Pitt defense that struggled to keep teams from scoring. The Panthers' defensive unit played a good game against FCS Villanova, holding them to only seven points and 172 yards of total offense. But since then, they've allowed 121 points to Penn State, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina.

It's easy to lump the collective problems of the defense and put all of the players into one basket. But one guy that's stood out and has done more than his fair share is defensive end Ejuan Price.

Price is not only having a great year, but four games into the season, he is the team's Most Valuable Player.

Price's season is easy to miss since we tend to focus on offense, but it shouldn't be. Through four games this year, he's proven to be one of the most dominant linemen in college football.

Before the season started, I wondered aloud if Price could put up similar numbers to his 2015 season. For the first time in his career he was healthy and made the All-ACC's First Team with 19 1/2 tackles for losses and 11 1/2 sacks. Nearly half of those sacks (five) came in a single game against Louisville and if you take that out of the equation, his numbers became much more pedestrian. But Price is proving that last year was no fluke.

Despite the fact that opposing offenses are more aware of him now after last season, he's been even more dominant than he was last year. Price already has 5 1/2 sacks, putting him on a pace to produce over one per game, and that is good for second in the FBS. His 9 1/2 tackles for losses are even better as he leads all of Division I in that category.

Price also led the nation in forced fumbles (with three) going into last week. He isn't only taking guys down behind the line of scrimmage but he's giving the defense turnover opportunities. And if that isn't enough, he also recorded a safety already, grabbing one against the Tar Heels last weekend.

Consider, too, that Price's numbers have nearly been even bigger. He leads the team in quarterback hurries with seven. Interested in knowing how many that is? No one else on the team has more than two.

Now, while Pitt's opponents have loaded up on the pass (in theory, giving him more pass rush opportunities), he's obviously been extremely impressive. And consider, as I said before, that he isn't an unknown commodity anymore. Teams are prepared for him and he's still finding a way to wreak havoc. It's similar to what Aaron Donald did in 2013 when teams routinely double-teamed him and he still beat them. Plus, Pitt's competition hasn't exactly been a cakewalk so far. In addition to the rivalry game with Penn State, both Oklahoma State and North Carolina are potential Top 25 teams.

Just how dominant is Price's year? Compare him to Donald's 2013 season when he was college football's most heralded defensive player. That year, Donald finished his season with 11 sacks and 28 1/2 tackles for losses. Those numbers, of course, are a premium since he compiled them on the inside of the line while Price is at end. But Price is on a pace to double Donald's sacks and record nearly ten more tackles for losses. There's still a lot of football to be played but Price is playing at a First-Team All-American level right now.

Many fans will be inclined to give Pitt's quarter-year MVP award to Quadree Henderson. That's fair. I picked him to be the team's breakout player of the year and, well, he's far and away that guy right now. Henderson, as I recently wrote, leads the nation in all-purpose yardage due in large part to his special teams work. But while he's having a huge year, I'm still inclined to go with Price. Henderson is part of a diverse offense with other guys stepping up. Running back James Conner leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards while being on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing year. George Aston's three touchdowns at fullback are second only to Conner. Jester Weah's 137 receiving yards are actually also more than Henderson has.

Price, meanwhile, is in another league compared to his defensive counterparts. No one has even half as many sacks or hurries as he has on defense and some of his plays, like the safety against North Carolina, have been really big. Simply put, Henderson hasn't had to carry the same load as Price.

Pitt's defense needs quite a bit of work if the team is going to put together a successful season but there's no doubt that Price isn't part of the problem. Several Pitt players on offense, such as Henderson and Conner, are having big seasons. But four games into the year, Price is my pick for the team's Most Valuable Player.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

The Brawl is Back: Pitt to face WVU in basketball

Pitt and West Virginia to resume hoops series

The University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University announced today that the two schools will renew the Backyard Brawl on the hardwood. The series will be a four year deal with the first game being in Pittsburgh next season and again in 2019, while West Virginia will host the game in 2018 and 2020.

Pitt and West Virginia have met 184 times throughout history, with the Mountaineers edging the Panthers 96-88. According to the press release on the official Pitt website, the Panthers have won 10 of the past 14 meetings, including five of the past six games held at the Petersen Events Center.

The game has always been a spirited rivalry, and new Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings acknowledged that as well while watching from the outside.

“I saw the passion and intensity of the Pitt-West Virginia series from afar and felt it was important that we work to renew the series,” said head coach Kevin Stallings. “Our goal in scheduling is to put together games that will generate great interest from our amazing fan base as well as prepare our team for conference and postseason play. Bob Huggins is an outstanding coach and competing against his program enables us to accomplish both of those things. I can’t wait to witness this rivalry firsthand.”

One of requests by the fan base to new athletic director Scott Barnes was to upgrade the basketball non-conference schedule. Whether it was warranted or not, the non-conference schedule by Jamie Dixon in recent years was under heavy fire by both the fans and the media. Barnes has listened to a degree, and getting a home and home with West Virginia is a great start. It’s a competitive game for one, and one filled with passion. Some of Pitt’s old Big East rivalries still resonates more with the fan base than games against ACC opponents.

The Backyard Brawl will be coming back in football in a few years as well. Last September the two schools got together and made that official. With West Virginia off in the Big 12 and Pitt is the ACC, the rivalry has more less died. Conference realignment has claimed plenty of rivalry casualties, but it’s nice to see Pitt and West Virginia get this done, especially in basketball. Scheduling games in football is complicated that takes years of planning. Basketball, on the other hand, takes very little effort. It’s been a shame the game has been on a three season hiatus.

This rivalry has provided many memorable moments. Since the 2001-02 revival of Pitt basketball, the two programs have played in some epic showdowns. West Virginia made the final four in 2010, and they have a fantastic team that crushed Pitt in Morgantown. Nine days later, however, a scrappy Pitt team defeated the Mountaineers in Triple overtime 98-95 in perhaps the craziest game in Petersen Events Center history.

There was also the 2008 game that will be remembered for the Ronald Ramon buzzer beater to beat the Mountaineers 55-54. One more that sticks out is when the 14th ranked Panthers beat the 9th ranked Mountaineers 57-53 on February 10, 2006. It will be remembered mostly for the shutout of an all-time Pitt villain, Kevin Pittsnogle. He was held scoreless on 0-12 shooting.

What has made this rivalry great the past 10-15 years or so, has been the emergence of both basketball programs. Jamie Dixon had Pitt as a perennial top 25 team making the tournament annually while a member of the Big East conference. John Beilein and then Bob Huggins had West Virginia enjoying similar success. Every time the two teams met in recent memory, it seemed to be a nationally televised game with either one or both teams in the top 25. Meaningful showdowns against a local rival makes for fun games. It may not be the same as it was in the Big East, but the renewal of the Backyard Brawl is a positive measure for both programs.

The Brawl is Back

Pitt and West Virginia to resume hoops series

The University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University announced today that the two schools will renew the Backyard Brawl on the hardwood. The series will be a four year deal with the first game being in Pittsburgh next season and again in 2019, while West Virginia will host the game in 2018 and 2020.

Pitt and West Virginia have met 184 times throughout history, with the Mountaineers edging the Panthers 96-88. According to the press release on the official Pitt website, the Panthers have won 10 of the past 14 meetings, including five of the past six games held at the Petersen Events Center.

The game has always been a spirited rivalry, and new Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings acknowledged that as well while watching from the outside.

“I saw the passion and intensity of the Pitt-West Virginia series from afar and felt it was important that we work to renew the series,” said head coach Kevin Stallings. “Our goal in scheduling is to put together games that will generate great interest from our amazing fan base as well as prepare our team for conference and postseason play. Bob Huggins is an outstanding coach and competing against his program enables us to accomplish both of those things. I can’t wait to witness this rivalry firsthand.”

One of requests by the fan base to new athletic director Scott Barnes was to upgrade the basketball non-conference schedule. Whether it was warranted or not, the non-conference schedule by Jamie Dixon in recent years was under heavy fire by both the fans and the media. Barnes has listened to a degree, and getting a home and home with West Virginia is a great start. It’s a competitive game for one, and one filled with passion. Some of Pitt’s old Big East rivalries still resonates more with the fan base than games against ACC opponents.

The Backyard Brawl will be coming back in football in a few years as well. Last September the two schools got together and made that official. With West Virginia off in the Big 12 and Pitt is the ACC, the rivalry has more less died. Conference realignment has claimed plenty of rivalry casualties, but it’s nice to see Pitt and West Virginia get this done, especially in basketball. Scheduling games in football is complicated that takes years of planning. Basketball, on the other hand, takes very little effort. It’s been a shame the game has been on a three season hiatus.

This rivalry has provided many memorable moments. Since the 2001-02 revival of Pitt basketball, the two programs have played in some epic showdowns. West Virginia made the final four in 2010, and they have a fantastic team that crushed Pitt in Morgantown. Nine days later, however, a scrappy Pitt team defeated the Mountaineers in Triple overtime 98-95 in perhaps the craziest game in Petersen Events Center history.

There was also the 2008 game that will be remembered for the Ronald Ramon buzzer beater to beat the Mountaineers 55-54. One more that sticks out is when the 14th ranked Panthers beat the 9th ranked Mountaineers 57-53 on February 10, 2006. It will be remembered mostly for the shutout of an all-time Pitt villain, Kevin Pittsnogle. He was held scoreless on 0-12 shooting.

What has made this rivalry great the past 10-15 years or so, has been the emergence of both basketball programs. Jamie Dixon had Pitt as a perennial top 25 team making the tournament annually while a member of the Big East conference. John Beilein and then Bob Huggins had West Virginia enjoying similar success. Every time the two teams met in recent memory, it seemed to be a nationally televised game with either one or both teams in the top 25. Meaningful showdowns against a local rival makes for fun games. It may not be the same as it was in the Big East, but the renewal of the Backyard Brawl is a positive measure for both programs.

Marshall Starting QB Chase Litton expected to play vs. Pitt

The top passer returns after missing last week’s game with a concussion

Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Panthers’ success in defending the pass against Marshall on Saturday may rest on which quarterback they see. It appears like they’ll be fully tested as the Thundering Herd’s starter, Chase Litton, returns to the lineup after missing their last game with a concussion.

Litton returned to practice on Tuesday and all signs point to him playing against Pitt. That obviously makes things more difficult for the Panthers.

So far this year, the sophomore quarterback has been pretty good. In the team’s opener, he threw for 309 yards and six passes against Morgan State before being pulled in a 62-0 blowout win. Against Akron, he was forced into three interceptions but still threw for 413 yards and four more touchdowns. Litton has also been pretty accurate, connecting on nearly 62% of his passes.

Obviously, he hasn’t seen anything like the Pitt defense yet. And with the three picks in an ugly loss to Akron, he’s been proven to make a few mistakes. But the amount of yards he’s passed for in those two games should be concerning for a Pitt secondary that’s struggled mightily the last two weeks.

Litton’s replacement, true freshman Garet Morrell, didn’t fare too well against Louisville last week. He was only 9-21 on the day with 59 passing yards. Suffice to say, facing him would have given Pitt’s secondary a much better chance at success. That’s not to suggest they can’t stop Litton, but there’s obviously no comparison between the two right now.

Hopefully Pitt’s secondary can step up to the challenge on Saturday.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Doctor Robert: Pitt-Marshall Injury Report

Here’s a look at the Panthers’ injuries heading into this week

Since the ACC requires its members to provide injury reports for in-conference matchups, Pitt released an official report last week. But with the Panthers playing a non-conference team this weekend, that’s not mandatory so we’re left a little more in the dark.

The good news is that it didn’t seem like there were any major injuries coming out of the North Carolina game. However, the team does still have some injury news to watch for this week.

The latest injury news was surrounding starting linebacker Mike Caprara, who didn’t play against the Tar Heels with a ‘lower body injury.’ If you’re keeping score at home, Caprara is already the second key linebacker to miss time with Elijah Zeise out for the season. Head coach Pat Narduzzi said during his press conference this week that he expects Caprara to play.

Keep in mind, however, that Caprara was listed as probable for the North Carolina game and wound up not playing, so it’s hard to tell at this point. Plus, Craig Meyer of the Post-Gazette noted that Caprara and fellow linebacker Bam Bradley were wearing yellow jerseys at practice on Wednesday, meaning they weren’t full participants. Obviously something to watch going forward.

Another key thing here is that freshman cornerback Damar Hamlin could be on the field sooner rather than later. He’s been a full participant in practice per several media members on Twitter and seems like he could be ready to go soon. Pitt’s cornerbacks have struggled so far but the question is when Hamlin could be ready to play after having missed so much time.

Finally, on top of the season ending injuries, wide receiver Dontez Ford will obviously miss this one since he’s expected to be out for quite a while longer with his shoulder injury. Head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t commented much on Ford, but Ford’s high school coach did confirm that he underwent surgery earlier this month. His loss continues to hurt as the team hopes to improve upon its passing game.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Quadree Henderson leads NCAA D-I in all-purpose yardage

Quadree Henderson has come almost out of nowhere to become a major contributor to Pitt's football team in 2016. The Pitt wide receiver has done so much in so many places that he actually leads the entire NCAA in D-I in terms of total all purpose yardage.

Henderson has racked up an incredible 825 total yards already through either receptions, rushes, and kick/punt return yards. That's good enough for first in D-I and his 206.25 yards per game are good enough for third in the nation.

One of the impressive things about Henderson being so high up on the list is the number of total plays he's been involved in compared to the two guys ahead of him on the per game average list - Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey and Donnel Pumphrey, the nation's leading rusher. Henderson has had 'only' 48 touches while McCaffrey has had twice as many touches (96) and Pumphrey has 82.

In a nutshell, those guys are barely beating him in per game average with many more opportunities. If you gave Henderson another 40 touches or so and there's no telling how much yardage he would have piled up.

Sure, much of the damage that Henderson has done has been on special teams. But that's also part of what makes him so dynamic. He has one kickoff return for a touchdown and has had a few long returns and gives Pitt a constant threat to break a game wide open. And while he has only 126 receiving yards, Henderson has also done a lot of damage as a runner with 260 rushing yards. He's the team's second leading rusher behind only James Conner and, considering how much we all talked up the running back depth on this team, that's pretty astonishing. Those 260 yards put him at No. 87 in the nation overall - and he's a wide receiver.

Pitt doesn't yet have the go to receiver that they lost in Tyler Boyd. But Henderson is doing more than his fair share of contributing and helping the Panthers' offense make plays.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt vs. Marshall: Breaking Down the Two-Deep

Looking at Pitt’s depth chart for Saturday’s game with Marshall.

Quarterback - 1. Nate Peterman 2. Manny Stocker

Nate Peterman started out strong on Saturday against North Carolina. He was 13-14 and was managing the game very well. I’m not sure who to blame for his fourth quarter play. Is it him? Is Matt Canada playing it conservative with Peterman? Is Narduzzi making that call? It’s all too strange. Either way, Peterman was 1-4 in the fourth quarter, his only competition was on a screen to Conner.

Look, I’m not in the blame Nate Peterman game. He is what he is. All I know is, Pitt needs to convert third downs late in games. The offense is scoring points, but they need to carry extra weight since the defense is so bad. Another play or two by the offense doesn’t put the defense in that position.

Running Back - 1. James Conner 2. Chawntez Moss OR Darrin Hall OR Qadree Ollison

James Conner had another strong game last week, and is putting together a nice season. One noticeable addition to Conner’s game is catching the ball. He now leads Pitt in both rushing and receiving yards. His added versatility is a nice plus.

Chawntez Moss is starting to look like the second back on the team. He had seven carries for 47 yards against the Tar Heels. He came in for a series early in the third quarter and made some nice plays, including a 13 yard run in which he was carrying defenders. He looks very good for a true freshmen.

Darrin Hall was third among the running backs with six carries (19 yards) while last season’s ACC Rookie of the Year, Qadree Ollison, was limited to just two carries for five yards. Not sure if Moss will continue to take carries from these guys, but for now he seems to be in the coaching staff’s good graces.

Fullback - 1. George Aston 2. Jaymar Parrish

George Aston is slowing becoming a cult hero. He scored his third touchdown of the season against the Tar Heels. Aston runs surprising well for a former walk-on. He’s come up with some big plays, and is really a fan favorite already.

Wide Receiver - 1. Jester Weah Quadree Henderson 2. Aaron Mathews OR Zach Challingsworth Tre Tipton 3. Rafael Araujo-Lopes

Qaudree Henderson is first nationally in total all-purpose yards, and is third in yards per game average behind only Christian McCaffrey and San Diego State star, Donnel Pumphrey. Henderson hauled in only three catches against the Tar Heels, but posted 100 yards rushing for the first time in his career. The jet-sweep by Matt Canada has been a revelation of sorts, and has confused teams for three straight weeks, all the while making Quadree Henderson one of the best weapons in college

Jester Weah chipped in one catch for 14 yards. Tre Tipton came down with three receptions for 18 yards, and Araujo-Lopes had one catch for seven yards. It appears these are the three players alongside Henderson that will anchor the receivers. They need more from the passing game in general, and these guys need to get open to make some plays.

Tight End - 1. Scott Orndoff 2. Jaymar Parrish

Scott Orndoff had nine catches in the first two weeks, and just had one since. He recorded zero catches against North Carolina. Orndoff is a solid weapon, and one I think Pitt should utilize more. We’ll see if he can get into the mix against Marshall.

Surprisingly, Jaymar Parrish hauled in a 22 yard catch against North Carolina. You don’t normally think of Parrish being a downfield receiving threat, but he made a big play.

LT - 1. Adam Bisnowaty 2. Aaron Reese

LG - 1. Dorian Johnson 2. Carson Baker

C - 1. Alex Officer 2. Connor Dintino

RG - 1. Alex Bookser 2. John Guy

RT - 1. Brian O’Neill 2. Jaryd Jones-Smith

You can’t ask much more from Pitt’s offensive line. They are controlling the line of scrimmage each and every week. Pitt is eating up the time of possession, and the rushing game ranks 15th nationally, and third in the ACC. Peterman generally has time to throw as well. They are fine, and just need to stay healthy.

DE - 1. Ejuan Price Rori Blair 2. Allen Edwards James Folston 3. Rashad Weaver

Ejuan Price is second in the country in sacks and tackles for loss. He is tied for third in forced fumbles. Price had some big plays on Saturday against North Carolina including a tackle for loss on Ryan Switzer that caused a safety.

Blair came down with half a sack, and two tackles against North Carolina. The Tar Heels got rid of the ball quickly, and it seemed like the pass rush was hard to get going consistently.

DT - 1. Shakir Soto 2. Keyshon Camp OR Amir Watts

I thought Shakir Soto had a very strong game on Saturday. He had four tackles, with one of them going for a loss. It’s hard to always judge how a defensive tackle plays, but I thought he made his impact felt. Overall, his move inside has been a positive in my eyes.

NT - 1. Tyrique Jarrett 2. Shane Roy OR Mike Herndon

It’s not always about the stats with a nose tackle. He’s there to clog the middle. North Carolina was held to 18 yards on 22 carries this past week. While Pitt’s pass defense is in shambles, the run defense has been pretty good. It’s just a bit overshadowed a bit.

Money Linebacker - 1. Mike Caprara 2. Saleem Brightwell

Caprara was out Saturday and is still listed as the starter anyway, but his backup Saleem Brightwell was on the field quite a bit. Brightwell was active with a sack, a fumble recovery, and pass breakup to go along with five tackles. He was a recruit many were excited about out of high school, perhaps he gets himself into the mix more each and every week.

Mike Linebacker - 1. Matt Galambos 2. Quintin Wirginis

Matt Galambos had four tackles, while Wirginis chipped in with three. Wirginis recorded his second sack of the season as well. Again as I mentioned above, the run defense was solid. The defense got some pressure on the quarterback as well, but this pass defense is among the worst in the country.

Star Linebacker - 1. Seun Idowu 2. Bam Bradley

This spot was a problem on Saturday. It kept getting matched with a slot receiver, and Idowu was not up to the task. Narduzzi keeps mentioning he won’t change personnel, but this isn’t working out too well. I believe they miss Elijah Zeise here.

Cornerback - 1. Avonte Maddox Ryan Lewis 2. Dane Jackson Phillipie Motley

Not much to say here, we’ve been watching it for three weeks now.

Strong Safety - 1. Jordan Whitehead 2. Dennis Briggs

I thought Whitehead was better against North Carolina than the Oklahoma State, although the bar was rather low for that. Whitehead led the team with 12 tackles, and had a forced fumble on a big hit in the first quarter. The pass coverage is on the entire secondary, but fewer big plays seems to happen when Whitehead is near.

Free Safety - 1. Terrish Webb 2. Reggie Mitchell

This position has been a letdown this season given their experience.

Kicker - Chris Blewitt Punter - Ryan Winslow Long Snapper - Pat Quirin

Chris Blewitt nailed a 50 yard field goal and a 40 yard field goal, while also going a perfect 4/4 from extra points. He turned his season around rather quickly after a very poor start.

Kick/Punt Returner - 1. Quadree Henderson 2. Avonte Maddox

Be honest, there was a split second you thought Henderson was going the whole way with two seconds left.

King of the Hill: ACC Football Power Rankings (Week 4)

Here’s a look at this week’s updated rankings

Here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings.

The big dilemma for me was trying to figure out what to do with Pitt. They sit at only 2-2 but have suffered some really late losses and were in position to win both road games.

Ultimately, I kept them at No. 7 but went back and forth a bit between that spot and No. 8 where 3-1 Georgia Tech resides. Tech’s narrow win against Boston College earlier this year coupled with a three-score loss to Clemson at home was enough for me to slot them just behind the Panthers.

Still not buying into the Wake Forest hype train just yet with their four wins against Tulane, Duke, Delaware, and Indiana.

Let me know what I got right/wrong in the comments. Previous week’s ranking is in parentheses.

  1. Louisville (1) / 4-0: 31-point beatdown against Marshall
  2. Clemson (3) / 4-0: After a slow start to the season, Clemson moves up a spot with a nice 26-7 win over Georgia Tech
  3. Miami (2) / 3-0: Hurricanes were idle
  4. Florida State (4) / 3-1: 55-35 win over South Florida
  5. North Carolina (5) / 3-1: 37-36 win over Pitt
  6. Virginia Tech (9) / 3-1: Another blowout win for Hokies with 54-17 victory over East Carolina
  7. Pitt (7) / 2-2: Narrow loss to Tar Heels keeps Panthers at No. 7
  8. Georgia Tech (6) / 3-1: 19-point loss to Clemson drops Yellow Jackets down two spots
  9. Wake Forest (10) / 4-0: Demon Deacons still perfect after 33-28 win over Indiana
  10. North Carolina State (8) / 2-1: Idle Wolfpack drop two spots after other teams stepped up
  11. Duke (11) / 2-2: 38-35 win over a struggling Notre Dame team
  12. Boston College (12) / 2-2: 42-10 rout over Wagner
  13. Syracuse (13) / 2-2: 31-24 win over UConn
  14. Virginia (14) / 1-3: 49-35 win over Central Michigan
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

More talk of Jamel Artis at point guard

Pitt basketball could move their small forward for this season

Earlier this year, there was quite a bit of discussion after some comments made by Pitt forward Jamel Artis about possibly playing point guard for the team this season. Head coach Kevin Stallings not only reiterated that, but also says Artis is actually the favorite to win that job:

Kevin Stallings told @CBSSports that Jamel Artis is currently the favorite to be Pitt's starting point guard this season.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) September 26, 2016

Artis playing point isn’t surprising news since that was stated back in July. But this is the first I’ve seen of Stallings saying he’s the leader to win that job.

Now, how much he plays there is up for debate. Stallings, in fact, said recently that he would play ‘some’ point guard.

Pitt, of course, lost long-time starter James Robinson to graduation this past season and needs a replacement. There are options, such as sophomore Damon Wilson and upperclassman Jonathan Milligan. In addition, there’s Crisshawn Clark and incoming freshman Justice Kithcart. But the one thing Artis in that spot would allow is for the Panthers’ to field a bigger lineup. Pitt could even conceivably have a massive backcourt if they decided to start Cameron Johnson at shooting guard. I’m not sure that happens with Chris Jones there, but you get my point. Some combination of Artis, Jones/Johnson, and say, Sheldon Jeter, Ryan Luther, and Michael Young, gives the team quite a bit of height.

It’s going to be interesting how this shakes out. One concern of mine was that Artis could lose some of his scoring focus, which has been crucial for the team at times, if he’s worried about running the offense. But perhaps that’s made up for with the development of guys like Johnson and Luther. In addition, Stallings said in that linked Trib article that he wants Artis to be a ‘scoring’ point guard and not just setting up players/running the offense. That gives me some form of confidence in knowing that Stallings realizes how important he is as a scorer.

Also keep in mind that this is something that could help Artis’ draft stock. Currently, he’s more of a fringe guy as an undrafted free agent, but a bit year could easily vault him into the second round. Don’t forget, Lamar Patterson was completely off the radar before his senior season when he worked his way into the NBA Draft. If Artis is able to show off his ballhandling and playmaking abilities, that will give scouts another reason to keep him on their radar. He wouldn’t be a point guard in the NBA but those abilities would help him get noticed.

Again, we’ll have to wait and see how this all shakes out. At the very least, it sounds as if Stallings is planning on shaking things up quite a bit with an established roster.

Something to watch for the upcoming season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Narduzzi says personnel changes could come at Pitt

After Pitt's secondary collapse against Oklahoma State a couple of games ago, Pat Narduzzi was asked if there would be any personnel changes coming. At the time, he said no.

However, it sounds as if the head coach is reconsidering after yet another disappointing game by the Panthers' pass defense.

"You might see one or two," Narduzzi said when asked if the Panthers coaches would be making any personnel changes. "I don't know if it will help things. There's always time to shake things up a little bit and we'll shake things up."

Narduzzi also made a point to say that he believes that the coaches have most of the right players on the field. But his admission that there could be changes coming means that they are at least open to trying a few different guys.

So where could Pitt be making some changes? I mean, if it's not the secondary, I don't know where it would be. One that stands out to me in particular is safety. Terrish Webb had a rough game against North Carolina and if you remember back to training camp, the safety spot opposite Jordan Whitehead was one that went right down to the wire with Webb and Reggie Mitchell, a former starter. Giving Mitchell a crack at the starting job might not be a terrible idea.

Then there's cornerback. Unfortunately, the team isn't as deep here with another known commodity available. Both Avonte Maddox and Ryan Lewis have struggled this year and some might argue that Maddox has been worse. Ironically, Maddox was/is the No. 1 guy out of camp and his job wasn't seen as up for grabs while Lewis was fighting to win his.

The problem is that there isn't a Mitchell-like opportunity here. Pitt could try to turn to one of its younger guys like Dane Jackson or Phillipie Motley, the two players listed behind Maddox and Lewis on the depth chart. But both are underclassmen, as are others such as freshmen Malik Henderson and Therran Coleman.

It's fine to clamor for changes, but part of the reason the Panthers have been hesitant to make moves there is simply because those guys are very, very green.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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