We've seen this movie before. Pitt gets off to a slow start, but plays a much better second half and wins. That played true again on Sunday...well, except for the winning part.
I've been frustrated about this for weeks, but the offense has gotten significantly worse over this season. If you weren't convinced of this yet, you've either been buried under a rock or in self denial. No worries - Sunday's game served as a brutal reminder that Pitt just hasn't been the same.
I don't know what was more annoying - the lack of offense or Pitt's insistence on not putting together two halves of basketball. Well, actually, they kind of go hand in hand.
Over the past six games, Pitt has averaged less than 27 points in the first half. And the one game in which they got off to a decent start came against South Florida, one of the worst teams in the league. Today's first half was maybe the ugliest I've seen all season.
But Pitt fought back and got the game into overtime. The only problem was they could only muster three miserable points in the extra session. If you can't score more than three points in overtime, you simply don't deserve to win. And two of those three points came on free throws from a freak technical foul on Louisville when a cheerleader got the ball from out of bounds and threw it in the air before the game was over. So, in reality, Pitt really earned a total of one point. I try not to be too hard on the team, but that's simply pathetic.
Here is a breakdown of Pitt's punchless offense in OT other than those two last second free throws:
Miss, turnover, turnover, turnover, missed free throw, free throw, miss, miss.
Like I said, pathetic.
"Sometimes you can't play your style, sometimes you have to play the other team's style and win," Kuric said. "It was a big win for us for obvious reasons. We won with defense, No. 1, and then rebounding. If you miss a shot, don't let it affect you."
The 15 turnovers didn't help, either:
"We did some good things, it just came down to turnovers," Dixon said. "We had four travels. We had some in the lane. We had some in the press. Those are things we have to work on."
Sound familiar? Yeah, that's Pitt's mantra, alright. But not only couldn't Pitt score in today's 62-59 loss, they only won the rebounding battle 37-36, despite playing a smaller team that uses a three-guard starting lineup. Even worse was that Louisville only had its leading rebounder, Rakeem Buckles, for a few minutes in the game as he left early due to an injury.
And I hate to disagree with Coach Dixon, but what about free throws? It gets a little tiresome to keep beating the same dead horse of Pitt's horrible free throw shooting (which is mostly why I don't mention it all that much), but it definitely helped to do the Panthers in on Sunday. 11-20 today for a meager 55%. I honestly don't know why Pitt can't improve in this area. It's been the same, sad story for ten years now. It's not as if Pitt is even in the middle of the pack in free throw shooting - their 66% puts them in the lower third of the NCAA. Maybe Dixon figures it's no use or just not that important. But man, is it painful to watch them clank one attempt after another.
One more thing on Dixon: I'm not going to break down his post-game press conference, but he sounded way too optimistic after the game to me. There was a lot about how the team basically made some mistakes, but also played pretty well. He would know better than I would, but is that what the team really needs to hear right now? They've been so sluggish at the starts of games and they need to go out there with much more of an attitude and really stop playing so passively in the first half.
The bench also didn't do the team any favors. I think that Talib Zanna's loss really hurt the team today as they could have definitely used some more rebounding. And you can also add in the fact that Pitt only had six bench points today to Louisville's 21. Six points? really? Lamar Patterson was invisible today and like I said in the SB Nation Pittsburgh preview, he can't be counted on to play as well as he did in the West Virginia game.
I don't even want to mention the individual performances today, but Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker both played good games. Wanamaker, though, had four turnovers and his pass to Brown late in overtime for a layup (when Pitt was down by three with about ten seconds) wasn't maybe the wisest play. But Wanamaker was 0-3 from three-point range in the game, so he probably wasn't feeling extremely confident.
This isn't a doom and gloom message, but I do think that Pitt is losing some steam. The two losses in the past three games have come to good teams on the road. There's no shame in that, but Pitt had chances to win both games and that's what the frustrating part is.
There's no telling how this season will turn out. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out, but the saying 'Pitt could go out in the second round or run to the Final Four' may not be any truer than it is this year.