Fresh off of a tough road win against Syracuse, Pitt's basketball team looked to be in good position down the stretch of its season. With the most difficult games past them, the Panthers had a chance to finish strong and bolster its NCAA Tournament resume. Not only was the team playing better, but the competition was weaker.
For that reason, it's hard to imagine that four games later, Pitt has virtually played themselves out of the NCAAs instead of into them.
After a close win against Boston College, the Panthers sputtered their way to an 0-3 finish. Pitt had only one other such stretch during its regular season, and that included two difficult games against Top 10 Duke and Louisville teams. This time around, the Panthers dropped games to Miami and also to two of the weaker teams in the conference in Wake Forest and Florida State.
Defense has been an issue this season and was again a problem here - there's no sugarcoating that. The Panthers' offense, however, was just as responsible for these losses ... if not more so.
Pitt shot only 41% against Wake Forest and completely disappeared down the stretch of a close game. The Panthers' defense wasn't great, but even a couple of late buckets by Pitt could have put them on top. The team had a single field goal in the final five minutes - and that was a garbage-time buzzer beater by Jamel Artis. The Panthers only gave up 32 second-half points to Wake, but were utterly useless offensively late in the game.
The Panthers made a reasonable 46% of their shots against Miami, but it was again offensive issues that cost them late in the game when they could have made a run. Pitt held Miami in check (43% from the field) and cut the deficit to two with 1:50 left in the game. But the Panthers were only 2-7 in the final 1:45 to close out the contest as Artis missed several opportunities to put Pitt ahead.
Things bottomed out against Florida State this weekend when Pitt shot only 33% from the field. Defensively, things weren't any better, but the Panthers at least kept things close there in the first half, giving up only 25 points to the Seminoles. Plus, allowing a total of 61 points is hardly the end of the world. Down seven and with a chance to make things interesting, Pitt promptly shot 2-10 in the final four minutes to close out their regular season.
Pitt's offense has been wildly unpredictable all season, so while losing those games comes as a shock, the disappearing offense was less surprising. Only Michael Young and Jamel Artis have been consistent scoring options this year -- and Artis only developed into one about midway through the season. Through his first 16 games, he was held to single-digit point totals nine times - and on five occasions in that stretch, he was held to fewer than five points. It just gets very difficult to win
The Panthers had any number of problems this year and in those last three games - that much is evident. To pin the lackluster year on any one thing would be inaccurate. But while it can be argued that Pitt should have played better during the entire game, the offense in the final minutes of each of the last three contests was a huge factor in the three-game losing streak.