Yesterday, Pitt's football team laid an egg in the last four minutes of their bowl game. Today? The basketball team laid an egg for 40 minutes.
After an early 6-1 lead, Pitt virtually fell apart in an uninspiring 68-50 loss to North Carolina State in their first ACC game this season. The Panthers had many problems and the biggest was poor shooting. I've said it before, but the biggest difference I notice between this year and in years past is that Pitt just doesn't get the easy buckets they used to.
If I were handier with capturing videos, I'd reference one play that really demonstrates my point. Mike Young came off a screen and was wide the heck open in the lane. Chris Jones didn't see him until it was too late, passing the ball off to someone else. Young was still open by this point and Jones even tried to get the guy with the ball to find him. He didn't, and a chance for an incredibly easy two points was missed.
This scenario has played out numerous times this year and this isn't the passing team that it has been in the past.
Really, though, that can be made up if you can shoot from the perimeter. Pitt, of course, can not (at least not with any level of consistency) and they made only 32.7% of their attempts today. This has been a regular occurrence against the better teams has faced. They shot 36% against Indiana. They shot 38% against San Diego State. They shot a better, but still subpar, 43% against Hawaii.
Fans will point to the 55% they managed against Kansas State in a blowout win, but the victory looks less impressive by the day as they're 7-7 right now.
Rebounding (I'll get to that in a second) is always viewed as a staple of the basketball team - and it is. But one of the reasons Pitt has been so successful in the past is a grind-it-out half-court offense where they routinely find the best shot available, which is generally a high-percentage one. That all seems gone, now.
Part of the problem is the lack of a post presence. Michael Young is a fine player and, as we saw in the non-conference schedule, he was able to take care of business against weaker competition. But he can't do it all himself and I can't help but think he would be a more effective player alongside a traditional center. A few of the shots he took in the paint on Saturday really reminded me of that.
That's also led to some of the rebounding woes the team has had. Young himself had nine, but as a team, Pitt was beaten 34-30 on the glass. No one else had more than five and Pitt isn't going to beat anybody when they can't shoot and lose the rebounding battle.
A big problem for Pitt is that these are essentially the games they need to win. They can pull of upsets against some of the better teams, of course, but when the NCAA Tournament selection committee has to compare two similar teams like Pitt and North Carolina State this season, head to head losses really aren't things you can afford. Losing to Duke, Louisville, North Carolina? Whatever. Pitt doesn't need those games. But they do need to beat the middle-of-the-pack ACC teams. To lose so convincingly is a resume buster.
To me, it's really quite simple. Pitt can beat weaker teams and struggles against anyone with any kind of real ability. And considering we're just now entering ACC play, it gets really hard to feel confident about many games on the schedule. 1/3 of Pitt's remaining opponents are ranked. That doesn't include two games against Syracuse or home games against Georgia Tech and Miami (who are a combined 17-6).
Throwing away the season after one bad conference showing would be pretty silly, so I'm not on board with that. But when you take the team's body of work in the non-conference and after today's game when they've faced better teams, it gets difficult to justify that this is a very good team.
Getting to 19 wins, which would mean a 9-9 ACC record, seems like a significant challenge at this point.
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