The weary Pitt basketball team will finally return for game action in the friendly confines of Pittsburgh Friday night against cross-town rivals, Duquesne. The game will not be played at the Petersen Events Center, but just a short ride down the street at the Consol Energy Center. The Panthers last played in their hometown on November 16 with a win over Samford, and have struggled in their recent five game road trip away from Pittsburgh.
Pitt dropped a shocker to Hawaii 74-70, before sandwiching two easy wins over Chaminade and Kansas State around a blowout loss to a very good San Diego State team in Maui. The Panthers were routed by Indiana in Bloomington on Tuesday night to fall to 4-3 heading into the City Game.
The Pitt program under Jamie Dixon rarely does not notch their third loss of the season until conference play, but with some unforeseen problems with the roster and a tougher slate than usual to open the year, you are seeing a reeling Pitt basketball team. The team and coaches can sense it, and the fan base can certainly sense it, and you would have to guess upcoming opponents can sense it as well.
The best cure for panicked and unsettled team is to start winning. Pitt is done with the hard part of their non-conference schedule, and they have six more games before ACC starts. The young Panthers have an opportunity to work out some issues before the schedule picks up again. I say "young" because Pitt is currently using seven freshmen or sophomores in their standard 10 man rotation right now. Pitt has long been a team that relies on the strength of seniors, and they should receive a boost when fifth-year senior Cameron Wright returns to the lineup, and that could happen as soon as tomorrow night.
Pitt's two biggest flaws right now is just defense as a whole, and making shots in the paint on offense. Obviously, that sounds like a bad recipe all around, but Pitt is still doing some things well. Pitt has managed to rebound the basketball better in recent games, and their passing has been very good also. Individually, Pitt has seen some great performances by different guys on different nights, but rarely have some of those performances coincided on the same night. Will teams shoot 60% against Pitt every single night? Probably not. Can Pitt shoot a little better and capitalize on all the offensive rebounds they are getting? I would think that is within reason to expect.
Pitt's turnaround could start Friday night under the bright lights of the Consol Energy Center. The "City Game" may not have the luster of some great college basketball rivalries, but it does have a lengthy history and it has one side that is hungry for a win. While I did mention these next six games may be against lesser competition and a chance to work on some things, that does not make these games easy. Duquesne is off to a nice 3-1 start, and are similarly built to the teams that have given Pitt problems - quick, guard-oriented team that can shoot the three. The Dukes have not beat the Panthers since the year 2000, and Pitt has won 23 of the past 25 meetings. Despite the lopsidedness, Duquesne always brings their "A game" in this one and have given Pitt fits in the past.
The Dukes are fronted by three guards that are all quick, and able to knock down shots. Micah Mason, Derrick Colter, and Jordan Stevens are all under 6'2" tall and all have been impressive in shooting the three in the early part of the season. All around, Duquesne is really a team based on offense and they don't seem to concern themselves with defense. The Dukes have score 80 or more point in all four of their games, but have given up 80 or more twice.
Pitt does not seem to match up well with Duquesne, as teams like them have been shooting exceptionally well against the Panthers from behind the arc. Although, there is pride within this program, and Pitt certainly does not want to lose to the little brother from down the street. Pitt is superior in talent and in coaching, and they are a team that needs to play with some urgency. If there is ever a time for Pitt to correct some things on defense, this would be a great time.
Looking back on this one in March, this could either be the win that got Pitt rolling, or the one that really led to a free fall. If Pitt can have a good showing on Friday night, I think it would quiet some concerns with this team. Not to mention that it would give them some confidence moving forward into the rest of their schedule. Another loss, and who knows that the rest of the season will bring.