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Pitt wrestling coach Keith Gavin talks facilities, assistants, and a regional training center

In case you missed it, Pitt wrestling coach Keith Gavin had a pretty good media interview a few days ago after the announcement of the program hosting the 2019 wrestling championships. Gavin spoke at length about a great many subjects and you can hear the full interview here.

One thing that Gavin was asked about was the wrestling facilities and if the program was planning upgrades. You might remember that this was something that came up quite a bit when fans were wondering if Pat Santoro could be lured here. Gavin's response? While there are some plans to upgrade the Field House that it wasn't likely going to be anytime soon. He also said that while there would be some upgrades to the wrestling room, it didn't sound like a major overhaul by any means:

"I think we're going to dress up the wrestling room ... put some graphics on the wall, maybe some new mats, things like that," Gavin said.

Wholesale upgrades to facilities, in other words, don't seem to be happening anytime soon.

Another thing Gavin talked about was that building his staff was the top priority. He didn't indicate that assistants Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee would be back and, while they may be candidates, Gavin appears to be at least looking elsewhere.

Gavin also called Pitt his dream job and also a career goal. One of the things I liked about Santoro was that he was a guy that could potentially finish his career here. And while Gavin doesn't have his experience or success since this is his first head coaching job, if he's successful, it's hard to imagine him wanting to go elsewhere.

Finally, one thing that will be music to the ears of wrestling fans is that Gavin plans to establish a regional training center. As he discussed, that's something a lot of top programs have and it allows you to host guys that are training for events such as world championships or the Olympics. The draw is that they are at your facilities, training your wrestlers, etc. Gavin added that 'you can't really win without one.' He also said that he would have loved to stay here and do that after his wrestling career but that it wasn't possible since that wasn't established here.

I'll say this. As I wrote before, I think that Pitt would have been better off with attracting a proven head coach here and getting a guy that has had experience. But I'll also say that, after listening to the interview, I'm a little more sold on Gavin than I was before. He's young and inexperienced, sure. But he also has a good idea of what it will take to win and be successful here. I get the sense that he knows what he needs and that the real issue will be if Pitt's athletics department is willing to commit to that in terms of providing resources, etc.

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.

ESPN.com says pass defense Pitt's weakness in 2017

Pitt managed to win eight regular season games last year despite one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. And while there's really only one place to go (up), it's still a massive question mark for 2017.

ESPN put together a list of all of the reasons why each ACC team won't win the conference title in this year. And, surprise, the Panthers' secondary is what they say will keep them from contending:

The good news is, the pass defense can’t be any worse. The bad news is, it’s going to need to be a lot better if Pitt wants to win the ACC in 2017. Of course, as bad as things were last year, Pitt was the only team to knock off Clemson in 2016, so maybe those ACC championship hopes aren’t so crazy. It’s just tough to get excited about a defense that allowed 35 points or more seven times last season, including 61 points to Syracuse.

Not a surprise and my guess is that most fans would say the same. To get much better secondary play, Pitt will need the younger guys to step up and make plays. And that, right now, is certainly no given.

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 tennis wraps up disappointing regular season finishing 3-15

The Pitt tennis team lost their final regular season match of the year on Saturday, falling to North Carolina, 7-0. It's not over yet as they will travel to the ACC Tournament this week, but in all, it's been a pretty disappointing year for the program. They finished 3-15 on the year, were winless in the conference, and haven't won since defeating Dayton nearly six weeks ago.

That is a significant step down when the team was 7-14 last year and the program hasn't been competitive since joining the ACC. The program is an unfathomable 1-55 (not a typo, I swear) in ACC play and has only won a total of 16 matches since joining the conference.

Heather Lyke surely has other concerns about the athletics department but if the goal is to be competitive across the board as former AD Scott Barnes said while he was still here, then at some point you have to look at the tennis program and figure out what can be done to improve.

Head coach Alex Santos hasn't had an easy time of things here but he was once heralded as the sport's top assistant coach. He was the ITA Assistant Coach of the Year in 2013 before coming here so his hiring seemed to be a nice grab. But even if Santos isn't the problem, the school has to decide how they can be more competitive.

I've written about this before, but many people are not aware that the tennis program doesn't even have its own facility. Currently, they play at Alpha Tennis and Fitness, which is nearly a half hour away from Oakland. I can't imagine that's too attractive for recruits, though, I can't speak to the number of other schools that face a similar situation.

The tennis program has really taken a nosedive since joining the ACC. In the Big East, they were competitive, finishing around .500 in the last few years before the move. As Pitt is finding out, competing in the ACC is a significant step up in competition in most sports. But the mentality of saying there is a learning curve, etc., can only last so long. At some point, you have to figure out how to compete.

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.

WalterFootball.com has four Pitt players in mock NFL Draft

Mock drafts are flying off shelves and one that caught my eye this weekend was WalterFootball.com's. Theirs is interesting because, while other mocks chart the first couple of rounds, they take a stab at the whole thing.

Their recent mock draft has four Pitt players being selected. The site has Nathan Peterman going in the second round to the Cleveland Browns. Then, in a pair of intriguing picks, they have James Conner going to the Eagles in the third round and Dorian Johnson teaming up with Aaron Donald with the Rams. Finally, in the fifth round, they have Adam Bisnowaty going to the Arizona Cardinals.

All four of those guys are locks to be selected in my mind. The question (in addition to seeing where those guys go) is if a team takes a flyer on any other Pitt players. There are plenty of intriguing guys like defensive linemen Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyrique Jarrett. Price, in particular, was just so disruptive. He's older but was very effective at Pitt so it wouldn't surprise me if he was selected, too.

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.

Kevin Stallings having a nightmare of an offseason for Pitt basketball

With a 16-17 record last year, new Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings had a bad season. Unfortunately, so far, he's having an even worse offseason.

Many fans blamed Stallings for a rough year and figured the team should have been more competitive. Some wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him to rebuild. Problem is, that he's having a difficult time even doing that.

It could be argued that Stallings' woes for next season really began during the year with the loss of freshman point guard Justice Kithcart. Kithcart's dismissal, however, was disciplinary-related and, unless the punishment didn't fit the crime, calling Stallings out for that isn't really fair. Unfortunately that was just the beginning.

Most people realized that after such a rough year, Pitt's roster was going to be in for some changes even beyond the guys graduating. That happened relatively quickly. Crisshawn Clark left the team to little fanfare but the departure of true freshman Corey Manigault raised a few more eyebrows simply because of his potential.

Next up was the bombshell, though. Cam Johnson decided enough was enough and, with several high-profile program calling, decided to jump ship. Johnson's loss hurt because he was clearly the team's best player coming back and the only returning starter left. If you're looking for a single event this offseason that caused this snowball to swell to uncontrollable levels, well, that's it.

But while that was the move that really got the angst flowing, it was hardly the end.

One of the team's few bright spots left was the acquisition of Troy Simons earlier this year. Simons was the top JUCO scorer in the nation last season and, while it wasn't clear how good he could be, he at least had the ability to put the ball in the basket. He committed to the Panthers just last month but this week, it was announced that Pitt was no longer pursuing him. The early talk was about a problem with his grades but his coach later took exception to that and said that Pitt was no longer interested in him. Considering that they were as recently as last month, that made a strange situation even stranger.

The most recent domino to fall, of course, was the loss of Aaron Thompson yesterday. Thompson was considered one of the team's better recruits in the group of seven that they had coming in but he was just given a release from his letter of intent indicating he wants to go elsewhere. Like the loss of Johnson, this one seemed odd. Unlike some of the other players that left town, Thompson was Stallings' first recruit. As I said in yesterday's article, his departure signals not only a concern about rebuilding, but rebuilding under Stallings.

Regarding the Thompson stuff, keep in mind the time frame we're talking here. While he committed to the team last May, he signed his Letter of Intent just in November. In other words, he was completely on board with the program and it took him only six months to bail. For what reasons? You'd have to ask him. But that's a horrific look for Stallings who lost the faith of Thompson just like that.

Further compounding the problem is that Pitt has yet to start bringing in grad transfers that they are targeting. The team is still waiting on their first commit there and with at least five open scholarships (there could, after all, be more) it's pretty clear that much of the roster is going to be built on those types of players.

The silver lining here I suppose is that there's still time to assemble a decent roster (well, decent in terms of 'not a complete and utter dumpster fire'). Depending on what grad transfers he gets, the team could even have some solid experience on the roster. But the clock is ticking and there is no group of players that is going to magically transform this squad into a great team.

Stallings had a rocky season in which he lost to Duquesne, openly complained about players to the media on more than one occasion, and missed the postseason altogether. That is starting to pale in comparison to the ridiculous offseason he's having.

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 Basketball Recruiting: Aaron Thompson released from letter of intent with Panthers

Pitt basketball head coach Kevin Stallings came to Pitt with an empty cupboard, according to many of his (dwindling amount of) supporters. That cupboard looks to be nothing compared to the one he has for next season. Aaron Thompson, one of the team's few potential bright spots left says, well, he gone:

The turnover that has decimated Pitt’s roster the past two months has stripped coach Kevin Stallings of his 2016 recruiting class, one he inherited from former coach Jamie Dixon, and his leading returning scorer. Now, that list of past Panthers includes his very first recruit. Guard Aaron Thompson, regarded as one of the top players in Pitt’s 2017 recruiting class, was granted a release from his national letter of intent, the school announced Friday. Thompson committed to the Panthers in May 2016, about five weeks after Stallings was introduced as the program’s new coach.

If you're counting at home, that leaves five open spots on the roster for next year.

Make no mistake here. Thompson is not a five-star recruit and not the kind of guy that was going to save Pitt's 2017-18 season from being a dumpster fire. That was basically sealed with the graduation of four starters and the loss of the fifth, Cam Johnson, to a transfer. But he was touted as a guy that would be a key piece in the team's rebuilding and what shouldn't be lost here is just how ridiculous this is becoming. This was a player that committed to Stallings for crying out loud. A guy that once was sold on what Stallings brought is now jumping ship before he even plays a single game.

The real problem, of course, is not the impact that Thompson would have had on next year's team. As I said, that team wasn't likely to be very good, anyway. The problem is that players cannot seem to run away from Stallings fast enough. I am not going to sit here and theorize about why that is. But with the departure of Cam, the other transfers, and now a Stallings guy in Thompson, it's abundantly clear that guys are very concerned about the prospect of not only rebuilding, but doing so under Stallings. None of that, of course, even addresses the mind-boggling situation the team had with the recent defection of the top JUCO scorer Troy Simons, who all but said Pitt was basically not interested in him anymore.

I mean, what is this?

Cam's departure was a little easier to understand given that his clock is ticking. He has two seasons left and wants to be on a winning team. That wasn't going to be the case next year, meaning he'd really have one chance at that as a senior. But in the case of Thompson, it wreaks of not having confidence that it's going to get better beyond that. Plenty of recruits sign on for rebuilding projects. That Thompson is running away from that is another reason to wonder exactly where all of this is headed.

Pitt basketball is not in good shape right now, folks. Many, in fact, would argue that it's not in good hands, either.

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.

James Conner takes to the Players' Tribune to talk to GMs in advance of the NFL Draft

Like a lot of people, I find the Players' Tribune articles to be pretty interesting for the most part. I don't keep up with the site much but try to check out articles when I can.

Today, Pitt running back James Conner had an entry, pleading his case to general managers as to why they should take him in the upcoming NFL Draft.

It's full of so much good stuff that I don't even want to try to cheapen it by picking out bits and pieces of quotes. The fact is that it's all good. In it, Conner talks about his battle with cancer, the fact that he was only about 60% coming into last season, and his struggle to even become a recognized recruit. Plus, a lot more.

Head over and check it out.

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 women's basketball schedules Backyard Brawl series with West Virginia

The Pitt men's basketball team will face rival West Virginia as part of a four-game series starting in 2017. The women's basketball program is getting in on the act, too.

Pitt announced the Panthers will face the Mountaineers in women's hoops as part of a two-game home and away series. The first game will be on December 7th in Morgantown and Pitt will get the return game in the 2018-19 season.

This type of stuff is good for both schools. While playing the Mountaineers in football every year may not be logistically possible or even that smart given the desire to play Penn State and Notre Dame, among others, there's not much reason the schools shouldn't meet in other sports with more accommodating schedules.

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 AD Heather Lyke offers support for basketball head coach Kevin Stallings

Many fans hoped that new athletics director Heather Lyke might consider a short hook for Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings. On the heels of a disappointing 16-17 season, some are hoping that Stallings is on the hot seat.

But Lyke said recently that she is offering her support for Stallings and a quick dismissal doesn't sound like it's happening anytime soon. Well, in terms of an immediate move, anyway. From Jerry DiPaola of the Trib-Review:

"I've had some great conversations with coach Stallings ... I'm excited about working with him." "My biggest question was really finding out what he's about, why he wants to be at Pitt and what's his vision for building this program. And after my conversations with him, I know he wants to be here. I know he's committed to being here, and I'm very confident in his ability to start to build it. "He's got a ways to go, but we need to support him, we all need to get to know him a little bit better and that's what I'm doing right now, spending time getting to know him, figuring out what are the greatest ways that we can support him."

Lyke's job is pretty easy here with regards to Stallings. She isn't going to be judged on Stallings because it wasn't her hire so, in terms of a personal evaluation of her, she doesn't need to move right away on it. The only way she gets tied to him is if he continues to struggle for several seasons and she doesn't make a move or if she offers an extension - neither of which are short-term things.

That said, I'm not sure I would get too comfortable if I were Stallings. There's really not much else she could say at this point and she made it clear that the program isn't in good shape right now by saying the program has a ways to go. She isn't going to come out and say he's on the hot seat, say he's done a poor job, etc. Essentially, this is her saying that she wants to provide Stallings the resources he needs to succeed and is willing to take a wait and see approach - nothing more.

And in that context, it's not surprising that she would make a show of support. Whether or not he would have been her hire is irrelevant. He's the guy that's here and the guy she needs to evaluate going forward.

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 volleyball goes unbeaten in spring tournaments

Volleyball season won't officially be here until the fall, but the Panthers are already working hard to improve upon last year. Like most programs, the team participated in some spring exhibitions. There, the Panthers were mostly dominant.

Pitt went unbeaten playing 12 teams in three events. The team website doesn't have a recap, but the volleyball Twitter account did a great job posting results.

The matches are basically exhibitions and instead of a best of five situation. In the first event, teams simply played two sets and moved on. Thus, it was easy to end up with some ties. Many of the schools were smaller ones but Pitt also faced some larger ones, including West Virginia, Purdue, and Indiana.

The team started off by defeating Ohio in the Indy College Invitational, winning both sets. They split with Indiana and Ball State before sweeping Purdue. After that event, the team was 2-0-2.

The following weekend at the Youngstown State Invitational, Pitt defeated Duquesne, Wheeling Jesuit, West Virginia, and Akron to move to 6-0-2.

The third event was a Pitt-hosted tournament at the Field House this past weekend. Unfortunately, it was the same date as the spring football game. But there, Pitt again had an easy time of things, sweeping Cleveland State, West Virginia (again), Youngstown State, and Miami of Ohio in straight sets. Add it all up and the Panthers finished 10-0-2 in the three spring tournaments.

The Panthers had a good season last year, finishing 25-9. That was capped by not only reaching the NCAA Tournament, but moving on to the second round before falling to heavily-favored Penn State. This year's team will be without the recently departed Jenna Potts, but returns practically everyone else.

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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