Pitt's recent win against Notre Dame was a bit unexpected, but not something particularly extraordinary because the Panthers have beaten many good teams at home. Today's game against North Carolina?
Now that was entirely out of the (pardon the pun) blue.
Pitt 'only' won 89-76, but crushed the Tar Heels in easily their best performance of the season. The Panthers led by about 20 points much of the second half and shot an unheard of 65% from the field on their way to an easy win.
How shocking was the dominance of the Panthers' victory? Consider that North Carolina wasn't exactly having a bad offensive game themselves. They had only four turnovers and shot 49% from the field while outrebounding the Panthers despite Pitt shooting so well, limiting the defensive rebounds available. How often do teams shoot and control the ball that well and lose in double-digits? Doesn't happen.
Tim Brando said it best during the game - North Carolina just ran into Pitt on the wrong day.
The Panthers got strong games from all of their starters, which is something I don't know that we've seen all year. All five guys were in double figures. Cameron Wright had a double double with 15 points and ten assists. Mike Young and Jamel Artis had fairly muted games, combining for 24 points, but they shot about 70% from the field together. James Robinson had 12 points and eight assists with only one turnover. The star, though, was Sheldon Jeter, who had a career-high 22 points on 10-14 shooting.
Jeter's been a big part of the team lately, averaging about 25 minutes per game lately. This team is just significantly better when they can get production from him. It all goes back to what I said earlier about the team having so many inconsistencies that you need as many players/options as possible to help pick up the slack when it's necessary. It's the same argument I've made about Cameron Wright. He's struggled some games, but the more guys they can have at their disposal to rely upon, the better.
The Panthers were due for something like this. They've had so many embarrassing shooting performances that it's not even funny and to put it all together in a game/stage like this ... it just came at a good time.
Mostly, what you're seeing is just this team growing up a little. I've brought up the amazing youth with this team so much this year that I've been chided for it at times.
But this is a very young team.
Derrick Randall chipped in today playing quite a bit, but again, this is a team that's played one upperclassman that's been there for the duration of the entire season. The only other one that's been relied upon is Cameron Wright, and he's missed many games with injuries. The fact that Pitt is starting to play so well is a little surprising based on what we've seen earlier this year, but it also shows you that it just takes some time for young players to develop.
If you look at the last five games, this team is trending upward. Huge win today to make them 4-1 over that stretch. They played pretty well against Louisville in that lone loss and while they did take a step back against Bryant in a close win, they played very well against Notre Dame and Syracuse.
You hear coaches talk about teams peaking at the right time and this is just one of those situations. All teams grow during the course of a year, but Pitt is doing so at an exceptional rate because the players aren't only getting better in general, but they're starting to mature as well.