Similar to Pitt's football team, the basketball team faces high expectations this season. Pitt begins this year ranked in the top five in both polls and is being hailed as a potential Final Four team. Like the teams before it, Pitt is capable of going that far, but could fall just short. Again. That's because the team lacks a true superstar.
Pitt's had this problem before, but that's probably part of the reason the team has had so much success over the past decade. The Panthers' strengths are in rebounding and defense, not superstars. Over the past decade when Pitt has had one of the most consistent programs in the country, it has had few players that got than a cup of coffee in the NBA. Center Aaron Gray is a third-year center for the New Orleans Hornets and should have a long career, but is likely nothing more than a backup center. More recently, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair are off to good starts, but that's about it.
Need proof that you need a superstar to advance deep into the NCAA tournament?
Over the past ten years from 2000-2009 (I've excluded 2010, since this year's Final Four teams still have players in college projected to reach the NBA), only five Final Four teams (12.5%) have been without a future NBA first-round draft pick. And to go a step further, only three teams (7.5%) have been without an NBA player at all. Those three teams were the 2000 Wisconsin Badgers, the 2002 Oklahoma Sooners and the miracle 2006 George Mason Patriots team. In the past four seasons, it hasn't happened at all.
So does Pitt's 2010-11 team have any NBA talent on it? Maybe. Ashton Gibbs is a reliable scorer, Gilbert Brown has NBA athleticism, and Gary McGhee is an improving big body, but at this point it's difficult to call any a lock to be drafted ... let alone a first-round pick. And it's too early to tell on guys like Dante Taylor and J.J. Moore.
Some may argue that Pitt's 2008-09 team (possibly its best team in this past decade) was without any first-rounders and came within two points of reaching a Final Four. But Blair and Young were both taken early in the second round and had been projected to be first-round players. Both slipped in the draft and Blair in particular, who is already an NBA starter, has shown that he should have been a first-round pick.
Can Pitt reach the Final Four this season? Of course. But without bona-fide NBA talent, the odds are stacked against them.