Despite a 12-1 start and a Top 25 ranking, no one really knew what to make of this Pitt team since the Panthers were hardly challenged throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule. Pitt may be among the upper half of the Big East, but there is still a gap between them and the upper echelon of the conference.
In a game which there were over 40 fouls and 60 free throw attempts combined, Pitt lost a tough game to Cincinnati at the Pete 70-61 today. The defense for Cincinnati just overwhelmed the Panthers throughout the second half and Pitt couldn't seem to get any stops on defense themselves. And it certainly doesn't help when Pitt fails to make a single three-point attempt.
There's nothing wrong with losing to Cincinnati, a team that will battle for the Big East crown and likely earn a double bye in the conference tournament. But Pitt had a very clear chance to earn a statement win to show everyone that they were a definite Top 25 team and another competitor for the Big East title. They went into the break up eight points, but everything seemed to unravel once the second half began. The big men, who struggled scoring outside of Talib Zanna, were dominated by Cincinnati's Cheikh Mbodj, David Nyarsuk, and Titus Rubles on the glass in second half while the Bearcats three guards, who Pitt had done a great job shutting down in the first half, made shot after shot.
What has to be concerning for Pitt fans was the way in which they were dominated inside in the second half. Cincinnati, a team who's leading rebounder is a 6'4" guard, simply outhustled Pitt on the glass, something that hasn't been a concern for Jamie Dixon teams in the past. The Bearcats outrebounded Pitt 20-11 in the second half on the glass.
Part of that is due to Steven Adams' inexperience, but he had nine boards today and the job shouldn't fall on him alone. Zanna and Dante Taylor had a combined seven rebounds in Monday's game. For Pitt to win conference games, they need to each have around seven. It won't get any easier as Pitt traverses through Big East play, with tough games against Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, and another shot at Cincinnati awaiting the Panthers.
Next up for Pitt is a contest at Rutgers. The RAC is a venue where traditionally Pitt has struggled, but this is a game that I think favors the Panthers. The Scarlet Knights are not as imposing on the glass as the Bearcats, so Pitt may be able to take advantage there. It will still be a tough battle on the perimeter, though, with Myles Mack, a lethal three-point shooter, and Eli Carter, who averages nearly 17 points a game, both starting for Rutgers.
Pitt is far from a finished product and I think when all is said and done, they will see their name in the field of 68 come March. But there are areas for the Panthers to work on before Saturday's game against the Scarlet Knights. Tip is at 11:00 on ESPN2.