I came into today's game believing that Pitt is a Top 25 team. Over the past few weeks I've made that declaration and a lot of people haven't gotten on board with that. Then today's game tipped off and it seemed like they didn't have any business being mentioned in the same breath as the rankings.
Fortunately, there are two halves in basketball.
To say Pitt got off to a slow start is an understatement. For much of the first half, the Panthers appeared to be replaced with a D-II team incapable of keeping up with their opponent. With the large amount of young guys on the team playing keep roles, there was a legitimate concern that Pitt could get blown out. Funny thing was, though, that it was the young guys that led the way in starting a comeback. The trio of freshmen, Mike Young, Jamel Artis, and Josh Newkirk, had 13 of Pitt's 26 points at halftime, and they really helped Pitt keep the game in striking distance.
That was enough and the second half was all Panthers. Pitt raced out to a 15-4 start in the second half and after taking the lead, never gave it back.
Pitt's upperclassmen finally showed up in the second half. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna both picked things up and finished for a combined 37 points. Patterson will (and should) get a ton of credit for the spark he provided with his 22 points and eight boards, but Zanna's second half has to be noted, too.
Zanna was an absolute dog for much of the first half. He not only didn't help Pitt keep things close, but he was really a primary reason they fell behind so much. Zanna missed his first three free throws and made only four of eight in the first half. Later, he bounced back to finish strong, but he really didn't do enough as Pitt was getting beaten on the boards early on. I've got to give him credit, though, as he finally found his way and finished with a nice game with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Artis and Newkirk, combined for 11 points - all in the first half. The bench had four steals, but other than that, had a quiet night and didn't score a single point in the second half. Durand Johnson played eight scoreless, shot-less minutes and continues to not be a factor. Derrick Randall played nine minutes but also didn't tally a shot or even a rebound. Those two guys didn't get a lot of time, but the fact remains that Pitt still needs more from their reserves.
What you should be encouraged about is the way Pitt fought back with such a young team. Young (who had a nice game with 13 points), Artis, and Newkirk proved that they can all contribute and rebounding after such a slow start against a decent team on the road is great to see.
What should have you concerned, though, is that Pitt suffered yet another slow start. The theme is becoming a problem in my opinion and something that can cripple teams (as we've seen time and again) in the NCAA Tournament. More on this later, but Pitt can't continue to come out so sluggish.
Still a nice win to be proud of. Conference road games are rarely easy and to come out with a win against a decent opponent after falling behind so much? I mean, it's really hard to not be excited about the way Pitt stormed back. Coming back from 8-10 points isn't uncommon, but to fall behind by 15 against a team led by an incredible scorer in T.J. Warren on the road is not an easy thing to do. And the fact that the Panthers won fairly comfortably makes it even more impressive.
The arguments that Pitt isn't a Top 25 team have to be getting at least a little quieter. That's particularly true considering Cincinnati's road win over a ranked Memphis team. You can look at all of the weak opponents and the slow starts, but the fact remains that the Panthers' sole loss is by a single point when they shot abnormally poor on a neutral court.
There are still a load of questions about Pitt right now and they have a long way to go, but I continue to think that they're one of the top 25 teams in the country.
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