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Troy Simons signs with New Mexico as Pitt situation becomes murkier with recent coach comments

Last week, news dropped that Pitt was no longer going to be including JUCO player Troy Simons in its plans for next season. Simons was the top JUCO scorer and could have been a decent addition to next year's squad, given that it's going to be a very young team.

While academics were believed to be at fault, though, Simons' coach says that wasn't the problem. Rather, the issue (according to him) was that Pitt wasn't interested:

Furjanic, a Rankin native who formerly coached at Robert Morris and Pitt-Greensburg, said Simons is on track to graduate by June 20. “Because Pitt didn't offer him a visit or a letter of intent, I felt it was in his best interests to look at other options because Pitt is making no attempt to sign him,” Furjanic said.

As I wrote in the initial article that Simons wasn't coming here, he was going to be visiting New Mexico. They wasted no time and have already signed him.

Excited to announce the signing of Troy Simons for 2017-18! Welcome to the Lobo Family, Troy! https://t.co/72o8sFvNNB #GoLobos pic.twitter.com/RZxiZ4h6f3 — Lobo Basketball (@UNMHoops) April 17, 2017

An Albuquerque Journal writer also spoke with Simons, who debunked the academics stuff.

.@ImUpNext3 Troy Simons said decommit from Pitt is not academics as a Pittsburgh paper cited from "source." Said it was lack of communication w/ coaches — Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) April 17, 2017

Per that earlier Trib-Review link, all of this seems to stem from the fact that Pitt would not give him a visit or letter of intent because they don't do that with JUCO players until they graduate(?)

Chas over at Pitt Blather states that Simons' primary recruiter here was Jeremy Ballard, who you might remember, recently headed to VCU.

It's hard to know what to make of all of this. Pitt not only still has room for Simons, but without him, they actually have four open slots left. And that assumes that Rozelle Nix and Jonathan Milligan both make it back for next year. At this point, I'm not sure how much quality is out there to be had and if grades aren't the issue here, the top JUCO scorer seems like he might have been some help.

We might never get an answer as to the grades thing but if he's academically eligible and able to play at New Mexico, there will be a lot of head-scratching from Pitt fans. If Stallings truly doesn't believe he would be able to help the team, I'm fine with cutting ties. As I've said over and over, a coach has to have the kind of leeway to make decisions and bring his own players in. But given the number of open roster spots available and the fact that the primary recruiting time has passed, it makes you wonder how the Panthers will fill all of this open space.

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.

Gold beats Blue 23-14 in the Spring Game

Gold team wins the Spring Game

Pitt held their annual Blue and Gold Game Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field. The Gold team raced out to a quick 17-0 lead and held off a fourth quarter rally by the blue team for the 23-14 victory.

Now to recap a Spring game, you have to truly appreciate what a Spring game is. The offense is typically bland, defenders play hard but not urgent, and of course many guys are missing from injury. It’s a glorified scrimmage open to the fans - that’s about it.

Overall it was a good day for the program, Pitt attracted 7,706 on a nice sunny afternoon. They also brought back former stars Tyler Boyd and Jabaal Sheard to captain the teams. Larry Fitzgerald and Tyler Palko, among other past players were also there in attendance. A number of key recruits showed up as well, it was a productive day for Pitt football.

Now for the game itself. It wasn’t always pretty, but there were a few different things we saw that we notable. I’ll start with the quarterback play. Max Browne wasn’t very impressive as he led the Blue team. Still, it would be a surprise if he was not the starter come September. His throws came up short more than a few times. A flea-flicker to open the game came with a pretty severe under throw. Arm strength is somewhat of question for me moving forward with Browne. However, he does appear to be pretty poised and confident, just like a senior quarterback should look. The final drive of the game was capped off with a 27 yard touchdown pass from Browne to Tre Tipton in the back of the end zone on a nice throw.

The other Blue quarterback was Tom MacVittie, and he completed just 1-1 passes for four yards. He seemed to be flushed from the pocket a bit, and never had the chance to stand in and make some throws. He did rush for a 12 yard touchdown in the third quarter showing some mobility.

The Gold team saw about equal snaps given to Ben DiNucci and true freshman Kenny Pickett. DiNucci was 5-5 for 60 yards on the day, while Pickett 6-13 for 36 yards. Pickett also rushed for 35 yards. I came away very impressed with Pickett. He’s much faster than I anticipated and actually has some running skills, and he looks comfortable extending plays and throwing on the run. Just didn’t expect that from a true freshman, but he impressed.

Pat Narduzzi commented on his young quarterbacks play on Saturday, “ To be able to turn those guys lose - some of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever had – really showed when it was live. You watch Kenny scrambling, Thomas scored a rushing touchdown, so it was nice to see those young guys get an opportunity to go out and do something and try and manage the game that way.”

Now onto the rest of the offense, and I’ll start with the running backs. Qadree Ollison and Chawntez Moss were the only scholarship backs available with Darrin Hall recovering from a surgery. Moss was clearly the more effective player, netting 57 yards on eight carries. Ollison had a tough time, and averaged just 1.3 yards per carry on 18 attempts. This will be a race to watch in Fall camp, as true freshmen Todd Sibley and AJ Davis should push for carries.

There wasn’t much to see from the tight ends, as the roster just doesn’t have many at the moment. Chris Clark sat out and they have three freshman coming for next season. It was also strange to see George Aston not touch the ball once after being one of Pitt’s best weapons last season. I’m not reading much into it, but with a new offensive coordinator in Shawn Watson, I was curious how tight ends and fullbacks would be used.

The wide receivers looked good, but inconsistent. They made some really good players, but there were plenty of easy drops mixed in as well. Quadree Henderson was fantastic on Saturday, as he rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 53 yards. It’s hard to imagine Henderson not being in the top 3 in the country this season in all-purpose yardage.

Aside from Henderson, Maurice Ffrench, Ruben Flowers III, and Tre Tipton stood out, and they did have the benefit from playing with Browne on the Blue team. Flowers III looked good after taking a redshirt last season. Jester Weah was really quiet hauling in just one catch for nine yards.

The offensive line was split up, and that’s a unit that works better when all five guys are working together. Brian O’Neill came up hurt in the second half, but it wasn’t anything major. Being a potential All-American, Pitt really needs to keep him healthy. Also noteworthy, true freshman Jerry Drake is a very big guy, he stands out even among the other linemen.

Now moving to defense, and one of Pitt’s biggest priorities is finding a pass rush without Ejuan Price. Top candidate Dewayne Hendrix did not dress. Other presumed starter Rori Blair looked good, as he notched two sacks. Allen Edwards got one too. He’s expected to be right in the mix for yards. Still, I have to say the redshirt freshman really impressed. Rashad Weaver had a sack and another tackle for loss, and provided pressure on numerous occasions. Kaezon Pugh looked good for just moving to end, and Patrick Jones II looked the part physically.

We did not see much out of the interior linemen. It was a quiet day for them, redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp came up hurt on one play in the second half, but other than that we did not hear much from the position.

Pitt is starting out fresh at linebacker and these young players are starting to look like they can be real quality players. I could see a potential starting lineup of Quintin Wirginis, Saleem Brightwell, and Elijah Zeise. Actually, Zeise did not not suit up Saturday, but won the Ed Conway award for his work this Spring as the most improved player. It could be a much more athletic linebacking corps than in previous years. Chase Pine also looks like he can see the field, the redshirt freshman is 6’2” 250 and can really move.

Jordan Whitehead and Bricen Garner manned the safety spots for the Gold, while Jay Stocker, Henry Miller, and Dennis Briggs held down the Blue team. Stocker led all players with 7 tackles. Whitehead showed no ill-effects from his injury last season, and I thought Bricen Garner did some good things. Henry Miller is a very big guy and made a few nice plays as well. Now remember, Pitt has Paris Ford coming in for next season, and he will change the dynamic entirely of this position.

And of course, now for the cornerbacks. This unit took a beating last year, and hopefully some fresh faces help out. Avonte Maddox was undoubtedly the best corner yesterday and will be the #1 guy in Fall. He broke up two passes, and recorded 3 tackles. Therran Coleman worked opposite of Maddox, and I have hope he can be an effective player soon. Dane Jackson and Phillipie Motley started for the Blue team, and I liked Dane Jackson’s play. He can be a factor. Also something to consider, Damar Hamlin did not play and he will be expected to push for a starting job if he can stay healthy.

New kicker Alex Kessman was 3-4 on field goal attempts, making three from inside of 40. He attempted a 60 yarder to end the first half and it missed very far wide right, but he had enough leg, and that was impressive enough.

That’s the rundown. Now recruiting should take center stage for the football program. Pitt typically does well in May and June, and we should start seeing some commitments. The team will reconvene in August for Fall camp.

The Untouchables team hoping for votes for The Basketball Tournament

You might remember that last year, The Untouchables participated in The Basketball Tournament. That tournament is an event featuring teams that mostly consist of ex-college basketball players.

About half of the Untouchables team is made up of former Pitt players. Among those on the roster for this year are Levance Fields, Gilbert Brown, Jermaine Dixon, and Antonio Graves. More players are also going to be added as well and Aron, one of our former writers here, is the GM of the team. They are again hoping to get into the tournament for this year.

The event starts in July and runs through August (play-in games are in June). It's gotten bigger over the years and $2,000,000 goes to the winning team with the later-round games on ESPN and ESPN2.

To get into the event, though, the team has to receive enough votes. You can help out by heading on over to the site and giving them a vote so they can get in.

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.

2017 basketball recruit Troy Simons not coming to Pitt

Pitt has already lost several players from last year's team to transfers. Now, they're losing guys that haven't even suited up for the team yet.

Pitt's roster for next year was already going to be a huge question mark. It's looking even less uncertain with the news that incoming JUCO commit Troy Simons from Polk State won't be coming to the Panthers after all.

Simons committed to the Panthers just last month. But apparently, there are some academic issues that are too great of a hurdle to overcome. Simons initially indicated he only needed to take two online courses to be eligible. With him now out, Pitt has four open slots for next season.

There's still interest in him. In particular, New Mexico is said to be bringing him in for a visit, per this Albuquerque Journal writer.

Lobos have 2 recruits in Abq this weekend: JC transfer 6-1 Troy Simons (top JC scorer at 26.3 ppg) & 6-7 UNT grad transfer Jeremy Combs — Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) April 15, 2017

While he would have been a new player for Pitt, he had some potential as a high-impact guy that would play right away. The team has a ton of youth on it already so even as a JUCO player, his age and ability to score (Simons was the top-scoring JUCO player last year, averaging 26.3 points per game) would have been helpful.

The move isn't a killer for Pitt, obviously. With or without him, the team has a stiff rebuilding task in front of them. And if the Panthers fill that spot, there's a good chance it's going to be with an experienced transfer, anyway. But well after the season has ended, next year's roster is still a complete question mark at this stage.

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 will hire Keith Gavin as next wrestling coach, per reports

Pitt's long and winding road in search of a new wrestling head coach finally seems to have come to an end on Thursday. At least we think so. Reports state that former Pitt grappler Keith Gavin has gotten the job.

Pitt hasn't given any official word yet but Oklahoma's official site posted the news earlier. When you click the link, however, the page is no longer there. Perhaps it's just a glitch but my guess is that they pulled the page until Pitt makes the announcement official.

That announcement, by the way, it seems, is being delayed in lieu of the news that Dan Rooney passed away earlier today.

That last link was courtesy of Knops Knotes on Twitter, who has probably had the best/most accurate news out there on this fiasco. And I believe it was him who had the first news of the hiring:

#BreakingNews @keithgavin84 to be named @Pitt_WRES coach https://t.co/8yLNRe7TeK pic.twitter.com/TwcyzaD6hS — Knops Knotes (@KnopsKnotes) April 13, 2017

FloWrestling also reports that Gavin is the pick. And also, here's his bio if you want to know more.

Assuming Gavin is indeed the next coach, what do I think?

If you've been following my thoughts on the situation, you know that I always thought it was a good enough job to land a quality, proven coach. I still believe that. There are a lot of rumors as to what Pitt could have had with Pat Santoro or Tim Flynn. And if they could have had either of those guys, I'm guessing that even the most ardent Gavin supporters would say it was a missed opportunity. And, for what it's worth, they also reportedly offered and were subsequently rebuffed by San Diego State (yes, San Diego State) head coach Chris Bono, who was the Big 12 Coach of the Year. Any of those three guys would have probably made a good 80% of the wrestling fanbase happy as they had proven, head coaching success. This one's going to be more divided.

The Pitt job, I still insist, can be a great one. The school sits in the state with the best recruiting territory in the country. They compete in the ACC, which is a winnable conference as Pitt proved a few years ago winning it in their first season. While the team has not been great itself lately, they are routinely a Top 25 program so a new coach wouldn't be starting from scratch. And, while you might not know it, as the search proved there are actually a decent amount of people that follow the sport in the area. It has to be a very attractive job for almost any assistant and, if you throw money at it, would be very attractive for any number of great head coaches. Three of them, apparently, felt it was worth the time to interview, after all.

Given that it is a pretty good job, landing a quality coach with experience shouldn't have been the tooth-pulling exercise it appears to have been.

Now, to Gavin specifically, it could turn out to be a very good hire and there are some things to like here.

First, he was a Pitt grad and while not the be all end all, it's nice to know that he's not going to be leaving to head to an Alma Mater anywhere else. That always has some value as far as hoping to keep successful coaches and he is familiar with the school and its selling points. He was not only a wrestler here, but one of the best in school history. He won a national championship at Pitt in 2008 and was a runner-up the year before. That type of stuff has to resonate, at least a little, with recruits. He's a young, up-and-comer, who could be here for a while. He comes to Pitt after being an assistant at Oklahoma and previously, Virginia and Pitt so he's been around several programs.

But given all of that, the one glaring hole is that he's still got very little actual experience. He was only an assistant at Virginia for two years and at Oklahoma only one. Before that he had one year of experience as an assistant at Pitt. Add it up and you have zero head coaching experience and four years of being an assistant. I mean, it's not nothing. It's just kind of ... there.

The argument, of course, is that everyone has to start somewhere. That plenty of assistants have gone on to incredible careers as head coaches. That, perhaps, all he needs is a chance. And all of that is or may be true. But as I said earlier, this isn't a lower-level job. It's not a job at a smaller school where you almost have to settle for an assistant and take chances on guys in most cases. This is a pretty decent gig that should (and did attract) proven head coaches. And when you consider that, it's just a tepid hire at best given his lack of experience. Sure, you might really like him. And sure, you might think he's a great pick. But it really gets difficult to argue that it's a better hire than getting a proven guy like Santoro or Flynn.

Now, if this was the guy they wanted from the start, perhaps I feel a little differently. After all, if you've been targeting an assistant that you feel is under the radar and your top candidate, that's different. But given that Pitt reportedly interviewed several guys before landing on Gavin, that doesn't appear to be the case.

Hopefully he turns out to be a good one and, as someone who has come to love the sport, I wish him the best, obviously since I want to see Pitt win more. I'm in the corner of any Pitt coach and really hope he turns out to be a good one. But given his lack of experience, it's just sort of a shot in the dark.

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 How do you feel about the Keith Gavin hire? Slam Dunk - great choice Good choice Decent Below average Ugh What is this wrasslin' nonsense?   0 votes | Results

Pitt Blue-Gold Spring Game draft held and honorary coaches named as practices come to a close

Pitt's spring practices are wrapping up with the Blue-Gold game to be held Saturday. Here was the preliminary information in case you hadn't seen it yet. I won't be in town but Jim will be down at the game and should have an update at some point afterwards.

The draft was held for the game yesterday, which is fine. For me, it's hard to get too interested up over something like this, but I know there's some interest among the fans. You can see the full team rosters here and if you wanted to see the order of picks, the Pitt Twitter account has a rundown of those. Coaches assigned all of the seniors to teams prior to the draft and then offensive tackle Brian O'Neill was the first overall pick.

Pitt also brought back the honorary coaches thing again. This year's picks there are Tyler Boyd and Jabaal Sheard, although the initial release didn't say which guy would captain which team.

As for the rest of the spring, it was mostly uneventful and I suppose that's a good thing. With practices mostly closed off to the media, there's not a ton of information out there, anyway. One of the bigger developments was probably the anticipated move of Jordan Whitehead to free safety, which should allow him to make more big plays. Other than that, however, I'm not sure too many relevant things really happened other than the insertion of the offense of new coordinator Shawn Watson. Fall camp should give us a better indication of where this team stands before the season begins.

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 infielder McKayla Taylor named ACC Softball Player of the Week

Pitt's softball team has struggled a good bit this season but still sits five games over the .500 mark and is 21-16 on the year. That's in part due to winning their last four games, which included a sweep of Virginia Tech last weekend.

Over that stretch, shortstop/infielder McKayla Taylor has been on fire. She hit a home run in each of the four games (four of her six hits were long balls) and she had a total of seven RBI and scored six runs while batting .400. For her efforts, she was named as the ACC Player of the Week.

At only 4-11 in conference play, Pitt has a long way to go to move up drastically in the standings. But they also have a good opportunity to begin that climb with a series against Syracuse (19-15 / 3-9 in conference) this weekend.

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 will face Navy as part of Veterans Classic in 2017-18 season opener

Pitt's 2017-18 basketball season is a while off with this year's season just ended. But the Panthers' first opponent is now known as the team will face Navy in the season opener. The game is part of the Veterans Classic, in which Alabama and Memphis will also play.

The games will be on November 10th and played at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Alabama and Memphis will tip off at 6:30 p.m. with Pitt and Navy playing at 9:00 p.m.

Obligatory Kevin Stallings statement from the Pitt press release:

"We are honored to compete against Navy in the 2017 Veterans Classic," said head coach Kevin Stallings. "The opportunity to interact with and observe the dedication and drive of the men and women in the United States Naval Academy will have a lasting impact on our young team. We have an unbelievable level of respect for those who protect our country and it will be invaluable for our guys to witness their selfless service."

This is the fourth year for the Veterans Classic. Tickets are $50 - $75 each if you're thinking of heading down.

Games will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network, which, depending on how you think Pitt might fare next season and in that game, could be a good or bad thing.

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.

Major programs pursuing Pitt basketball transfer Cameron Johnson

I haven't really tried to keep up with the status of Pitt's basketball transfers. Mostly, the stuff about where they'd end up just didn't matter all that much to me. But when I opened up the Post-Gazette and saw that Kentucky was a potential suitor for Cameron Johnson, I practically lost the lunch I had a few hours ago.

Kentucky, and plenty of big-time programs, are after the former Pitt player:

Early indications are that Johnson might have his pick of major programs, for the most part. Friday morning, a Rivals.com recruiting reporter tweeted that Johnson has 20 offers already, including Arizona (coached by former Pitt standout Sean Miller), Texas, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan and even TCU, where former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon now resides. ... But perhaps the most intriguing school to surface so far in the Johnson rumor mill is Kentucky, where John Calipari also has reportedly extended an offer for the immediately-eligible graduate-transfer guard to join his perennial power. Kyle Tucker, who covers Kentucky for SECCountry.com, even wrote that there’s a “good chance” Johnson lands in Lexington, citing a source.

Something tells me Jamie Dixon is going to have a harder time getting him this time around than before when Pitt had much less competition.

I don't hate Cam for this. I really don't. But given how much interest there is not only nationally, but from the kinds of programs there are, it's all just really kind of annoying. And yeah, if I'm being honest, it makes hate the Kevin Stallings hire that much more. Sue me.

That there's so much interest isn't all that surprising when you consider how late in the game it is for getting guys for next year. And consider the types of players you usually see out there as transfers. The kind of players, for example, that Pitt has gotten. Now, consider what Cam brings to the table in that he has two years of eligibility left, can play immediately, is a good three-point shooter, and is a big guard.

It's also worth pointing out that Cam is much more battle tested than a lot of the types of transfers you see out there. Most of those guys are lesser players on big programs or better players at small programs. Look at Trey Zeigler, a guy that Pitt fans were excited about. He lit it up at Central Michigan, scoring more than 16 points a game in his first two seasons and, no offense to him, struggled to make any kind of an impact here at Pitt. Look at Rafa Maia, a rebounding machine in the Ivy League, who could barely get off the bench here. Doing what Cam did last year as only a sophomore is really impressive and it's no wonder he's being pursued.

Ugh.

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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