Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Might want to cover that guy ... Sorry, I'm still stuck in game mode and having flashbacks.
Okay, so let's get this out of the way. The refs sucked in this one. Not sucked as in they cost Pitt the game, just sucked in terms of, well, sucking. For someone not to notice Dante Taylor bleeding as if he were Stone Cold Steve Austin after blading in a match or to allow Talib Zanna to practically have his arm ripped out of his socket on a layup was a bit ridiculous.
Onto the rest of the game.
A loss to a top 20 team in what essentially amounted to a road game isn't the worst thing in the world. But when you talk about frustrating losses, this ranks somewhere right behind the Notre Dame game for me.
So James Southerland, right? Look, I've not been around Twitter or the message boards yet, but I'm sure there are a good number of people that want to compare this to Kemba Walker. Nothing could be more inaccurate. Walker was an NBA talent capable of carrying a team on his back and with a full offensive arsenal. Southerland's a fine player, but when it comes to an offensive arsenal, he's nowhere near Walker's level.
The disappointing thing is that even though he didn't play in the first game earlier this year, Pitt should have been ready for him. Southerland throws up more than six three-pointers a game, which equates to more than half his shots. To give him that much room to breathe let alone shoot is inexcusable. He makes less than 40% of those long range shots, but if you're Pitt, you've to realize that's one of the few ways you can lose - by giving up a lot of shots from beyond the arc.
The fact is that Pitt got caught napping. A lot. They let a spot-up shooter come out and knock down wide open looks. That's not to discredit Southerland who made every three-pointer he took. Hitting 6-6 in any game from that range is an accomplishment and he shot extremely well. But he's not a guy that's going to beat you off the dribble or get into the lane with any great regularity. Pitt simply didn't guard him well enough from the perimeter and he made them pay. He was clearly the difference in the game, but if I'm being honest, I'm a big discomforted if I'm a Syracuse fan. They had a single player go off for 20 points on nearly perfect shooting, hit 12 three-pointers, and held the opposing team to about 35% from the field ... and still only won the game by three points.
Again, Kemba Walker he ain't.
Conversely, Southerland's performance is exactly the ones Pitt should be afraid of. They've had several games where an opposing player went MJ on them and while it hasn't cost them against weaker teams (i.e. Corey Petros had 19 for Oakland, Devon Saddler had 28 for Delaware, Ray McCallum had 24 for Detroit), it has against better ones when Vander Blue (Marquette), Cashmere Wright (Cincinnati), and Southerland all went for more than their career averages in wins over the Panthers. If you don't think one player can beat Pitt in the NCAAs, think again.
Another problem today was the bench. Those guys average about 27 points a game, but had only seven today and shot 3-13. But production was limited partly because they just didn't play as much as they typically do. Everyone, save Durand Johnson, played less minutes than they average. You can chalk that up to Jamie Dixon not wanting to take his starters out, and as a whole, the starters played fairly well, so I didn't have much of a problem with it. Even with the limited minutes, though, those guys have got to come in a do a bit more on offense. Seeing a guy like J.J. Moore score only two points is rivaled in frustration only by Dante Taylor, Cam Wright, and Trey Zeigler go scoreless.
The other thing sure to come up is Pitt's continued struggles with the dreaded double bye. I'm not buying into the fact that they double bye is a bad thing. Winning three games is always easier than winning four in my book. But it has proven to be a bad thing for the Panthers. I realize they are playing a good team by that point, but the fact is the team just hasn't been very prepared for it.
If you're looking for some solace, here it is - Pitt just didn't play that well today. If they cover Southerland better than a cardboard cutout of Ashton Gibbs, got anything at all from their typically reliable bench, or shoot a bit better than the 37% they did, we're talking about a win and getting ready for Georgetown. What the Panthers have to guard against is coming out flat and not putting together a full 40 minutes. In other years, Pitt has had the talent to get by without doing that. But that's just not the case this year and hopefully they realize it.