As I mentioned briefly in the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, while there were a few good things in Pitt's insane loss to DePaul last night, they're hardly worth mentioning. It's the bad things that really matter after a loss such as this, and there were plenty of them.
Where to start.
The difficult thing to digest is that Pitt actually looked like they had this game won several times. They had a double digit lead a few times in the second half, but couldn't hold it. DePaul shot just as bad as Pitt did to start, but then got hot. Still, it didn't matter as Pitt somehow found itself with a two point lead late.
I don't like to pin a loss on any one single moment, but Jamie Dixon had a severe lapse in judgement in the game. Funny, since he's been a hot topic of conversation lately. With Pitt up by two, Dixon somehow found it fitting to throw little-used guard Isaiah Epps in the game. We all know Epps' story, highly recruited kid with thoughts of leaping to the NBA early. He's since struggled to find his way and generally only plays a few minutes per game - if at all.
Still, that didn't matter to Dixon as he decided it was perfectly fine to throw him in there in a crucial situation. Epps not only missed one, but both free throws and the rest is history as DePaul converted an 'and-one' at the end of the game to win.
Now, it's bad enough that Epps missed both, but shame on Dixon for even allowing him to be in that situation. Even if Epps is a decent free throw shooter, for as little as he's played, we really shouldn't have the chance to find that out. I know, I get it - Pitt's really thin at guard. But I'd rather Dixon at least go with guys that have been in the flow of the game. If that means letting guys that don't shoot all that well get in the game, then so be it. I'll take my chances with a guy like Nas, who shoots bad from the line, than Epps who hasn't played in any critical situation this season.
Pitt had to have this game and at the height of it, Dixon's mistake was costly. But it wasn't all on him, though.Ashton Gibbs was again pretty bad. I don't know what it is, honestly. He's been a bit dinged up, but has been healthy enough to play. Gibbs was a dismal 5-14 from the field and he's down to around 36% from the field on the season. I'd love to blame it on just a bad stretch, but this is worse than that.
The sad thing is that I really feel for him. While he wasn't a lock to be drafted last year, his chances were infinitely higher than they will be this year unless he really turns things around. Not only that, but the team doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Then there's Cam Wright, who just looks utterly confused every time he steps on the court. Wright again had a rough night with three points and three turnovers in 12 minutes. The turnovers were particularly ugly, but the thing is that as bad as he's looked, with Tray Woodall out, Dixon's hands are tied. The only thing he can do is play John Johnson more, which, thankfully, he did against DePaul. But with Wright as the only reserve guard other than Epps who doesn't play at all, he's going to have to play just to spell those Gibbs and Johnson. Dixon could go bigger and play both Zanna and Taylor at the same time, but that again really leaves the bench really thin.
As I've said over and over, Woodall's injury and Birch bailing on the team hurts more than simply the production they gave - it makes the team extremely thin.
Crazy as it seems, after coming off the ledge, I'm still not ready to give up on this season. Pitt is really short-handed right now and the young guys should get a little better. I really think the key is Woodall. If Pitt can get him back and back healthy, I think we'll see a stronger team.
Otherwise, it might be time to start making NIT plans ... if that.