Fact: Pitt has been terrible on the road this year
Fact: Pitt suffered another bad loss and their hits took a blow today
Fact: Pitt is not dead ... yet (I'll get to that in a second)
First things first. Pitt crapped the proverbial bed tonight. Needing a win to really help firm up their NCAA Tournament hopes, the Panthers didn't get on, losing to Wake Forest 69-66.
A loss wasn't out of the question, of course. Pitt has been a terrible road team this year and while Wake Forest isn't the cream of the crop in the ACC, as I said earlier this year when the Panthers dropped a game to Virginia Tech, any conference road game has the potential to be difficult. We've seen it time and time again with bottom-feeders knocking off much better ACC teams this year and it's just something that happens. Unfortunately for Pitt, this is their second such terrible conference loss and that just doesn't look good.
After a difficult first half, Pitt raced out to a nine-point lead in the second. Despite needing this game desperately, they couldn't keep that lead and to allow a weak team to come back and prevail under those circumstances is really pretty unacceptable. No one gets the 'the other team is out there trying, too' narrative more than I do - believe me, I get it. But in must-win performances against bad teams, you need guys to step up. Despite the game being on the road, again, Wake Forest is not a team with so much talent that should make holding nearly a double-digit lead under virtual must-win circumstances impossible.
A huge problem for me was the way Pitt completely folded down the stretch. I've made a point to call out when they've dominated end of game situations on several occasions this year, but this wasn't one of those times. Pitt had one field goal in the final six minutes of the game - and that was an utterly inconsequential three-pointer right at the end by Jamel Artis.
Pitt's final possessions in that time? If I must ...
- 1-2 FTs
- 1-2 FTs
- Missed FT
- 2-2 FTs
- Made FG
I legit have a headache.
Practically everyone took plays off down the stretch, too. Mike Young was only 2-4 from the line. Cameron Wright had the chance to turn a one-point deficit into a one-point lead and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Jamel Artis had two turnovers in the span of less than ten seconds. Sheldon Jeter had a careless turnover that led to Wake tying the game and then came back down the court and missed a bad shot. No one could do much of anything, really.
As if all of that weren't enough, the zebras effectively ended the game by ruling in favor of Wake Forest on a late out of bounds call. The ball certainly went off Robinson, but the officials missed a blatant foul against him as a Wake Forest defender obviously made contact making Robinson lose the ball in the first place. Not the reason for the Pitt loss, but it certainly didn't help. The refs were in a bad spot there and they could have awarded Pitt the ball on a make-up call, but they couldn't go back and call the foul because of replay rules.
Then again, just get the call right in the first place, guys. Wake was clearly trying to foul with Pitt down by three and not wanting the Panthers to get a chance to tie it up, so they should have been expecting that. Any official worth his salary is going to be looking for a foul there and they completely blew it. Just a really bad piece of officiating.
Overall, though, pin this one on the Panthers. Bad loss, bad play, really bad job by the team today.
So where's this leave us? Obviously, Pitt's NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit - there's no denying that. But despite what Brad Daugherty (who was borderline over-the-top in making the case against Pitt for some odd reason) wants you to think, the Panthers aren't sunk quite yet. And no, they don't need to win the ACC Tournament, either.
Here's the thing - most of us believed that winning out would get Pitt in. One loss hurts ... it really hurts because it was to a team with an unflattering record. But guess what? North Carolina State just had a bad loss, too. Other teams can still stumble along the way. Like I said a week or so ago, it's pretty foolish to declare that Pitt is out short of winning the conference tournament right now because we have no idea what other teams will do along the way.
Plus, what if Pitt wins out and wins a couple in the ACC Tournament, beating another ranked team along the way? Would a third ranked win still not be enough to get them in when their strength of schedule and, presumably their RPI, would be so favorable?
Sorry, but to rule the Panthers out at this point is, well, pointless. Just way too much ball left to be played. I'm not saying Pitt gets in the Big Dance, but if you compare them to several teams that Joe Lunardi has 'in' at this point as they did during the broadcast, the Panthers still stack up fairly well against several teams ... even some No. 8 and 9 seeds. Pitt still stacks up very favorably in strength of schedule, (for now) in RPI, and if Syracuse could somehow get into the RPI Top 50 (they're currently 57), Pitt's Top 50 wins magically double from two to four.
I'm not the only one who feels that Pitt isn't sunk yet, either. Joe Lunardi's latest rankings dropped Pitt only a mere one slot - taking them from the last team in his first four out to the first team in his next four out. One slot.
In short, the win was a big hit ... but not one that has officially ended the season.