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Pitt wrestlers sent packing at NCAA Championships

The Pitt wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships this weekend. Three, you could say, seemed to have legitimate All-American chances. Dom Forys, Teshan Campbell, and Ryan Solomon were all ranked in the Top 20 this year and had a shot. Taleb Rahmani had been very impressive but an All-American ranking seemed like a reach there.

At the end, all four of Pitt's wrestlers had some success but were sent packing on Day 2 of the event without making the All-American team. Here were the brackets going into tonight's session. The only change from a Pitt perspective is that Solomon's final loss is not shown here.

At 133 pounds, Forys managed only one win in the Championship bracket before being upset by No. 11 Bryan Lantry in the second round, 5-3. Ironically, Lantry barely moved on after posting a 3-1 first-round win over a lower ranked guy while Forys, the No. 6 seed, easily defeated No. 7 seed Eric Montoya. Forys dropped into the wrestlebacks bracket, won a match, but then was upset again by No. 14 Mitch McKee - the guy that also lost to Lantry. In all, Forys was 2-2 and lost to two lower-ranked wrestlers. Forys, 21-3, ended up losing to a nearly .500 wrestler (22-18) in McKee.

Now, to be fair, McKee is no slouch. That evidenced by the fact that he was ranked despite being only 22-18. No one else in that weight class had such a bad record with such a high ranking, so the kid is pretty good and almost surely had a difficult slate of competition. But at the end of the day, you still would consider that an upset because of how good Forys had been this season.

Campbell had the exact same path at 165 pounds, winning his first match then dropping his second. In wrestlebacks, the 10th-seeded wrestler won a match before being upset by No. 15 Drew Hughes and also finishing 2-2.

Rahmani continued to impress at 157 pounds. He dropped his first bout to No. 7 Dylan Palacio, but then went on to win two matches in wrestlebacks, including one against No. 9 Joshua Shields in the biggest upset win of the tournament for Pitt. He lost his next bout to No. 15 Archie Colgan but absolutely shouldn't hang his head about his performance coming in unranked.

Solomon had the most success and came closest to being named an All-American. He finished 3-2, winning two matches in wrestlebacks after a win in the Championship bracket, but was defeated by No. 5 Nick Nevills of Penn State for an All-American slot. Ranked No. 15, his losses were hardly shameful, losing to the No. 2 and No. 5 ranked heavyweights.

I want to feel a little torn on how to feel about Pitt's showing. The easy way out is to be fine with the results because of all of the turmoil this year in changing head coaches. But at the end of the day, wrestling is very much an individual sport. And when you look at guys like Forys and Campbell, in particular, that had three dual losses combined, there's just no way to not feel disappointed and feel like they came up short. I'm not going to attempt to speak for them but I don't know how you wouldn't feel that way to be honest with such high expectations.

So do I feel like it's just one of those things you chalk up to the instability of the program this year? Maybe from a team perspective in terms of some of the duals, etc., but certainly not from an individual standpoint at NCAAs. Jason Peters being dismissed doesn't really have much to do with guys not making All-American status. They were very good wrestlers when he was here and that doesn't change simply because he's gone. I have a really hard time pinning upset losses in NCAAs on the fact that Pitt lost its head coach in the middle of the year because those guys still went on to a lot of success after he was gone.

The good news is that the future looks bright for next year in terms of who should be returning. Pitt still has to find a coach, but doesn't lose too much to graduation. John Rizzo and Mikey Racciato were the only two seniors and Racciato was dismissed from the team a few weeks ago for a violation of team rules. Both guys did some decent work at times for Pitt but certainly aren't irreplaceable. Racciato was about as up and down as you can be at 149 pounds and Rizzo was 13-16 on the year at 197. I really enjoyed watching Racciato wrestle, especially. But there's no getting around the fact that he was very up and down for Pitt after a very nice 2014 campaign when he won an ACC title.

Now, you can never account for unexpected departures. After all, I don't know if there will be any more fallout from the incident earlier this year that cost Peters his job (I doubt it) and you also can't account for random departures, such as the team losing Cody Wiercioch (an NCAA qualifier in 2016) this year. But it looks like Pitt will return the core of their production from this season, including all four NCAA qualifiers. There are question marks at some weight classes that I'll cover later, but overall, they should return a ton from this year.

I'll have more in an upcoming article about the outlook for next 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.

Pitt Football Spring Practices: Qadree Ollison hoping to bounce back from rough 2016

With the loss of running back James Conner to the NFL a year early, the Pitt football program will be turning to a new starter in the backfield in 2017. As I wrote at the end of last season, there's plenty of opportunity with all of Conner's carries now available. One of those guys hoping to land the job? Qadree Ollison.

The entire trio, consisting of returning contenders in Ollison, Darrin Hall, and Chawntez Moss, of course, is hoping to be named the starter. But it's Ollison who probably has the most work to do in terms of catching up.

Ollison had, by most measurements, a great 2015. After taking the starting job as a freshman, he won the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year award and ran for more than 1,100 yards. Last year? With the return of Conner after he had missed most of 2014, Ollison had only 38 carries and saw his yardage per carry drop to only 3.8. Ollison wasn't only behind Conner, but he also fell behind both Hall and Moss - two guys that are returning. Add in a pair of talented freshmen backs coming in (A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley), and you can see that he will have to fight off many players for the job.

Pitt is only two days into spring practice but head coach Pat Narduzzi is at least encouraged by what he's seeing so far.

"He's looked good," said the head coach. "Again, it's in shorts and we are letting them run through the line of scrimmage, so they all look good when no one is getting tackled. The good winter is going to transfer onto the field for sure."

So, what's different? Well, with practices mostly closed (Narduzzi is again allowing only a small portion, mostly consisting of warmups, of the actual practice open to the media), it's hard to say. But Ollison talked a little about how he wants to approach this season.

"I'm smarter now," Ollison said. "I am the oldest running back in the room going into my redshirt junior year. The new me is really trying to be a leader. Last year, we had James [Conner] and Rachid [Ibrahim] who were both older guys, leaders in the room. Now, I'm that older guy who is trying to be a leader for the younger guys in the room, not only for my position, but for the team as well."

We'll see how it plays out. It was weird to see Ollison, who had such a big year for a freshman in 2015, relegated to the No. 4 back on the roster only a year later. I'm not sure I can recall that happening before on a Pitt depth chart. And as mentioned, he not only has the two returnees to worry about but also the incoming guys. Even if the freshmen don't contend to be a starter, they will be contending for playing time. And, similarly, if Ollison isn't named the starter, he'll be battling those guys for backup time.

Heck, you can even argue that there's more competition since Davis and Sibley are two players as opposed to just one with Conner. Neither is as good as Conner, obviously, but you get the point. There are a lot of bodies here.

Based on how quickly he was buried last year and how much competition there is this season, I'm not sure I can see him winning the starting job back. But if he shows improvement, hopefully the opportunity is there for him to get some carries. The more capable guys that Pitt has, the better. And if he's in the mix, Pitt will hopefully be able to redshirt at least one of the two freshman they have coming in since there's just no need to play five guys - especially when all three returning players are pretty good.

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 Signal: Jay Symonds commits to Pitt

Pitt landed their first recruit for the 2018 class

PITT IS IT! #L1TS8URGH #H2P— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) March 16, 2017

The long wait is over. In case you missed it, Pitt got their first commitment for the 2018 recruiting class when Jay Symonds committed to Pitt yesterday afternoon. Pitt was one of the few programs in the country without a commitment for whatever reason, and now they are on the board.

Jay Symonds is a 6’4” 250 pound tight end/H-Back from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He chose Pitt over offers from Boston College and Temple, along with some FCS offers. He is not graded out by the four recruiting services yet, and he should get a ranking during the upcoming Spring evaluation period.

Symonds plays for Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols School in Cambridge. He helped lead his team to a 7-2 record in 2016 as a junior. His team used him all over the field, and you can check out his highlights here.

Pitt brought in three tight ends last recruiting class, and only have four total on the roster. This is obviously a position that still needs to be replenished over time. Pitt’s recruiting class will be interesting this year. There are only 11 seniors on scholarship heading into the 2017 season, so a large recruiting class is not expected. It’s hard to pinpoint a number at this point for this class. It’ll be a wait and see approach.

Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr rescues stranded driver, reveals post-football plans

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is known for his random acts of kindness. This week, he came to the rescue again.

Ron Reeser said he ran out of gas Tuesday and was ready to trek to the nearest gas station with his gas can when a young man in a SUV pulled up and asked if he needed help, according to the Fresno Bee report.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting newsWhen Reeser explained the situation, the young man said he'd give him a ride to the gas station. Reeser accepted, and proceeded to have a revealing conversation with the good Samaritan, not realizing he was an NFL star quarterback.

The young man told Reeser he was a football player when asked what he did for a living. He told Reeser that he'd like to be a pastor when he retires from the sport. Reeser thought the young man was a college player, so he asked his position and favorite team. That's when it was revealed that the helpful young man was actually Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

Before departing, Reeser and Carr prayed together. 

In January, Carr was given a shout out by law enforcement for helping to find a missing girl.

In addition to performing good deeds, Carr is spending the offseason recovering from a brutal leg injury he suffered during a Dec. 24 game against the Colts.

Photos: NCAA cheerleaders

They cheer on the teams at every NCAA game. Take a look at some of the cheerleaders you may see during March Madness.

NBA Outlook: Jamel Artis

Throughout the season, I’ve had a dozen or so conversations about why senior forward Jamel Artis isn’t going to be on an NBA roster by the end of this October. Honestly, the fact that he’s atleast a year older than his draft class and already 24 should stop the conversation right there. For the sake of argument, and because this article has to be more than two sentences, let’s dive into why Artis isn’t an NBA caliber player.

Measurements and Position:

Artis is listed at 6’7” on the Pittsburgh Panthers official website, but in reality, he’ll more than likely measure closer to 6’5” in socks. Couple that with his slender frame and it would be impossible for him to play either forward position in the NBA. Even at small forward, his career rebounding rate of 10.1% is low and was an unimpressive 8.2% this past season. Obviously, not every player has to fit a physical profile, but how many of those players are an exception also average athletes and lack one truly elite skill?

But he’s a playmaker:

It’s certainly true that Artis can create for himself and for his teammates at the collegiate level. He’s a very good passer, and that ability really shines in mismatch situations. As a senior, he had the highest assist percentage (22.8%) and usage percentage (27.2%) of his career while also bringing his turnover percentage (14.5%) down from his junior year; that’s no small feat.

The main thing you have to ask yourself though is if any NBA team, and I am talking about their second unit, would benefit from having Artis use up a ton of possessions in order to be at his best? The answer is no. The Los Angeles Lakers, the worst team in the Western Conference, have Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. coming off the bench. Clarkson is roughly seven months older than Artis is right now, but is in his third year in the NBA. Nance Jr. is in his second year as a professional and is all of 11 days older. Both are already effective spot-starters and rotation players.

Yes, Artis is a playmaker, but every NBA player has to do other things well to warrant being on the court, especially if you’re going to use a ton of possessions. People like to compare Artis to Jared Dudley, but you can’t discount the fact that Dudley came into the league in 2007 and is also a career 40% three-point guy with a good reputation around the league and works hard. Artis has never connected at a 40% rate from the NCAA three-point line and I think this season spoke to a lot about his intangibles.

Just use a second round pick on him:

This one gets me the most because it doesn't make sense. I realize we don’t have an NBA team in Pittsburgh, but second round picks carry value. They can be used to facilitate trades, keep overseas players in a situation to develop without taking a salary cap hit, and to grab a player who may have slid out of the first round on a non-guaranteed contract just to kick the tires. Most second round selections don’t turn into Draymond Green or Isiah Thomas, but they can be solid rotation players. Very raw players that didn’t produce in the box score are also candidates to be a second round pick so that I team can evaluate a player in an NBA environment without carrying as much financial risk.

So where does that leave Artis who is at least a year older than this draft class, has ideal measurements for the point guard position, needs a lot of possessions to be effective at the NCAA level and doesn’t guard anyone? I just don’t know if that’s someone I’d classify as one of the best 60 draft eligible players in the world.

Look, Artis was a fine player for Pitt and developed nicely during his tenure here. Don’t mistake my pessimistic outlook about his potential NBA career as a slight against what he accomplished as a Panther. It’s not easy to make an NBA roster, you have to have a lot of things go right for you, and a lot of those things aren’t always in a player’s control. In this case, there are just too many things stacked against Artis coming off a disappointing season, both individually and as a team to warrant serious consideration from an NBA team, in my opinion.

-Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.

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 @Stephen_Gertz

Freshman Corey Manigault will transfer from Pitt basketball program

On Monday, guard Crisshawn Clark announced his intentions to transfer from the Pitt basketball program. The Panthers' musical chairs session continued on Tuesday with the news that freshman Corey Manigault would be leaving as well.

I wasn't terribly upset that Pitt was losing Clark but I was a little bummed that we never got to see what he could do here. We did see Manigault this year, but I'm slightly more upset at losing him.

Manigault was a four-star (ESPN - three-star elsewhere) recruit that chose Pitt over Georgetown, Miami, Xavier, Maryland, and several other programs. The future seemed pretty bright for him upon arrival, but he barely played this season and when he was out there, struggled to make an impact.

Even though he did play this season, I tentatively put this in the same category as Clark in terms of not getting to see what he could do. No, he wasn't great in games this season but he was also a true freshman getting limited minutes scattered here and there. Part of that was because, well, he wasn't great in games. But the other part is that the team relied heavily on starters Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter. The fact is that even if Manigault was ready to play, I'm still not sure how much would have.

And in terms of the true freshman thing, I can't overstate how important that is. A kid like Brad Wanamaker was an absolute train wreck his first year here. He honestly looked very much like in over his head at the upper D-I level. But he continued to improve and was a real contributor by his junior season. If you look at the trajectory of his seasons here, you see the significant rise from his sophomore to junior year that a lot of players experience. He remains the perfect example of why you shouldn't write anyone off after one year. 32% from the field, 2.2 points a game, sub 50% free throw shooter. He just didn't look very good and is now a borderline NBA player with an extremely successful international career.

I'm hoping this isn't something that comes back to bite Pitt down the line. It's a different situation than Clark's because Clark has injured the same knee twice and has real health issues. I'm not sure if he was prodded or wanted to look elsewhere OR if Pitt tried desperately to hang onto him. I lean towards one of those first two things because he didn't get very many minutes despite the team needing depth there. But if this kid is averaging a double double as a junior, so help me. If you're cutting the cord with a three/four-star recruit after one year where he barely played (or allowing him to walk without trying to keep him), you better be sure that he's not going to be able to play at this level. Of course I don't want to see him fail and I wish him nothing but the best going forward. But if he goes somewhere else and produces, it will be difficult to watch.

This, of course, isn't an indictment on head coach Kevin Stallings yet, either (in terms of this move, anyway - we all know the team had a horrible season). And like I said, while we don't know the full circumstances of his leaving, we do know that Stallings was in no great rush to play him, despite the loss of his top frontcourt reserve Ryan Luther, for much of the year. That, if anything, gives us a pretty good idea of the confidence level he had earned from Stallings. He's seen Manigault all year and if he's convinced that he won't be able to play in his system and at the level of ACC competition, he's perfectly within his right to make that call. Heck, he has to make that call and sit him if that's the way he feels. So for now, we've got to reserve judgment. But if Manigault goes somewhere else and plays well, there will be a lot of head-scratching around these parts as to why Pitt couldn't find room to at least get him some quality minutes on a team that was running 6-7 deep.

For better or worse, the transformation of the team continues. As of now, Pitt has one open slot and they might have more if anyone else decides to leave. Right now, the team is looking incredibly young for next season so a grad transfer that can eat up minutes in next year, which will admittedly be a rebuilding one, would be ideal.

I'll run another poll as I did with Clark yesterday. How upset are you at losing Manigault?

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.
Poll What are your thoughts on the Corey Manigault transfer? Fairly big loss Moderate loss Small, but manageable loss Meh   2 votes | Results

Pitt Alumni Celebrity Golf Tournament set for May 20

As you might expect, I get hit up quite a bit for all sorts of requests. Some, I completely ignore (on purpose). Some, I forget about in the litany of other things I have to do in the course of a day. Some get bypassed if it's a particularly busy time of year. But I try to help out a few of the worthwhile ones.

Last year, a Pitt Alumni Golf Tournament was started. I wasn't previously aware of it but a reader brought it to my attention this year and Pitt broadcaster Dick Groat is a spokesperson of sort as it's at his course at Champion Lakes. Funds raised will benefit the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.

Here's more information on the event. Each playing foursome gets paired with a Pitt celebrity and the event is on May 20th. And even if you aren't a golfer, there are opportunities to chaffeur a Pitt celebrity around for the day.

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.

Sophomore guard Crisshawn Clark transferring from Pitt

Pitt lost freshman guard Justice Kithcart, who was dismissed from the team in the middle of this year. They are now down another guard with the news that Crisshawn Clark has received approval to transfer out of the program:

I want to say thank you so much to The University of Pittsburgh for this opportunity!! I will be transferring to continue my career. pic.twitter.com/dqYfHCgLqq — Crisshawn Clark (@Ohio_Shawn) March 13, 2017

Pitt was one over the scholarship limit with all of the new recruits coming in but I was hoping Clark wouldn't be the odd man out. The move wasn't unexpected but I wanted to see him back if possible. Unlike other players on the roster that have already played, Pitt didn't really get a chance to find out what they might have in him. He played one year at junior college, where he was a Freshman of the Year before injuring his knee there and then again here, sitting out the past two years. I would have loved the opportunity to see what he could do if/when healthy. Problem is that we don't know exactly when that might have been and how limited he might be upon returning.

I don't know how good Clark could have been but there's little doubt that with help needed in the backcourt, he would have gotten his shot to play if he had been healthy this year.

Like most transfers, Clark has some limited options and you likely won't see him line up against Pitt anytime soon. He was blocked from transferring to any team in the ACC and also from upcoming future opponents.

The program's dramatic roster changes over a bit more and things still might not be done. The team will have a completely different look next season and there's little doubt that for those that wanted to see head coach Kevin Stallings get his own team on the floor that that is what will be happening next season.

Thoughts?

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.
Poll What are your thoughts on the Crisshawn Clark transfer? Fairly big loss Moderate loss Small, but manageable loss Mrh   22 votes | Results

Cardiac Hill NCAA Bracket Contest (Reminder)

I mentioned this in an earlier post but figured a reminder wouldn't hurt now that the official NCAA bracket was revealed over the weekend.

Pitt isn't in the field, of course, but I suspect that will only help most of us that were more often than not convinced the team could make a Sweet 16 run these past few years only to be disappointed with yet another early exit.

If you missed the first announcement I ran last week, here's the link to sign up for our Cardiac Hill bracket contest. As we've done in the past several years, the bracket contest will be run through our gracious sponsor, Yahoo. There's no prize other than bragging rights but why not take the opportunity to show us all how smart you are, anyway? That alone is worth the 3-4 minutes it will take to fill one out. Super secret password once you click on the link? Why, that's: h2p

Hope you'll join us -

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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