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Tim Benz: Plenty of Pitt news via NCAA Tournament

April 1, 2018

As we discussed after the Super Bowl, just because Pittsburgh wasn’t involved, that doesn’t mean we can’t make it all about us.

So let’s do it with the NCAA tournament, too. No Pitt. No problem. Here’s an all-Pitt basketball March Madness column, even though there’s no Panthers presence in the bracket.

The Sean Miller talk: It’s weird, right?

For instance, Tom Crean’s name came up as a potential replacement for Kevin Stallings as the Pitt coach. It vanished quickly, though, as he was hired by Georgia.

Neither his flirtation with the job nor his subsequent decision to sign with UGA really seemed to move the needle here.

I heard a lot of, “He got fired at Indiana. So why should Pitt want him?” I’m also hearing zero push for Mark Fox now that he’s been removed from Georgia.

The funny thing is, Miller may only come to Pitt if he gets fired at Arizona because of his postseason failures. Or illegal recruiting conduct. Or both.

Yet I’m sure there would be a parade up to Petersen Events Center to welcome him home.

That’s ironic because Jamie Dixon was partially pushed out because his postseason record was deemed to be inadequate. And Panther fans love to mock the likes of Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim for their NCAA transgressions.

Don’t get me wrong. If somehow Miller should shake loose and Pitt knows it can hire him without NCAA blowback, do it.

Do it immediately. He may be the only guy capable of bringing back energy and optimism to this program, maybe win to some degree or another (eventually) and be given the time and patience by the fan base to do it.

After all, Pitt fans have been waiting for someone named “Miller” to coach the basketball team almost as long as they have been waiting for someone else named “Marino” to be the quarterback of the football team.

But it is obvious how selective our opinions can be when we consider the pros and cons of “generic Coach X” versus a famous alum and a local legend.

We’re not the only ones talking about Pitt: At a press conference prior to his team’s second-round win against Michigan State, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim had this to say about the randomness of the tournament:

“You play in this tournament, you are going to get beat. Pittsburgh, they didn’t like their coach (Dixon) because he didn’t win in the tournament.

“They’re doing real good now, aren’t they, in Pittsburgh?

“I know all those people were yelling. They wanted him out. Now they’re going to pay this guy (Kevin Stallings) $10 million, which they are trying to renege on. Which is great for a university to do when you have a signed contract with a guy.”

Speaking of Dixon: There was some Twitter mockery of Dixon after he lost early in the tournament again. This time with TCU. This time to Syracuse on Friday night.

But Dixon’s failures in the tournament — in Oakland or Fort Worth — don’t justify the trainwreck that occurred after he was let go.

One thing about that game, far too much of a premium was placed on Dixon’s knowledge of playing against Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Many thought the Horned Frogs would beat the Orange because Dixon won so often against SU in conference play.

Sure. Dixon knows it well. That doesn’t mean his players know it. Part of Dixon’s success vs. Syracuse over the years was that his veteran players were familiar playing against it, too.

His TCU guys weren’t. It’s different in real life than it is on film or in theory. Ask Michigan State.

If not Hurley, who? (Part 2): On Friday, I wrote about two other people coaching in Pittsburgh over the weekend who have been rumored as fringe candidates for the open Pitt coaching job. They were Tim Cluess of Iona and Duke assistant Jon Scheyer.

One way in which Cluess makes sense is he is an expert at team building through transfers.

Eric Musselman is, too. All five of his Nevada Wolfpack starters are transfers. They just advanced to the Sweet 16.

In the wake of all the Pitt player transfer requests, having a guy to replenish that team via transfers to Pitt — instead of away from it — would be beneficial.

The Panthers basically have no team right now. That roster needs to be stocked with guys who can at least be competitive in Division I next season. Or else 8-24 will look great by comparison to 2019.

Great weekend at PPG: The Rhode Island versus Oklahoma NCAA opener at PPG Paints Arena was my favorite non-Penguins sporting event that I’ve ever seen in that building.

The fans were into it. It was fun overtime action. The arena was packed.

The Alabama/Virginia Tech game was also high scoring and competitive. The Duke and Villanova games were not. But those schools were so impressive, that made the price of admission worthwhile.

Between the quality of the games and the Dan Hurley factor adding local spice, I’d say the weekend was a success.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.