The on again off again Panthers were decidedly off tonight as Pitt dropped an ugly game to Clemson, falling 73-60.
For a while we've been trying to figure out exactly what this team is. That's starting to come into focus a little as this looks more and more like a middle-of-the-road ACC team. Just when we're ready to count the Panthers out, they go into Florida State and grab a significant road win. And just when you think they might be getting on track, they go out and lay complete eggs against North Carolina State and Clemson.
That first half is really what did the Panthers in since the second half was a little closer. Pitt scored a measly 26 points and as a result, trailed the Tigers by 14 at the break. But let's not kid ourselves - the offense was off all night. The Panthers shot only 38% from the field and that isn't going to win many games.
Here's the thing - this team is so wildly inconsistent right now that we don't know what we'll get any given night. We're not able to call this team terrible because of their five ACC wins against Notre Dame, Florida State, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Boston College. And we can't put them in the upper echelon of the conference with losses like this one and North Carolina State. This is a team that, for now, looks like they fit squarely in the middle of the ACC ... and that's where they find themselves with a 5-3 conference record.
Is that good enough? Not in the grand scheme of things. But it's also about where (or slightly better than) many people picked them at the beginning of the season. Despite a fast start to the season, we're sort of forced with the reality that this looks more and more like a team fighting for middle ground in the ACC.
A big problem is that Pitt continues to get streaky performances from the surrounding cast. We touted Pitt's depth earlier in the season, but some of the players are having a very hard time making an impact night in and night out. Michael Young and Jamel Artis have been the mainstays and Young in particular had another huge game with 25 points and seven rebounds. But where's the beef, er, help? The other starters, James Robinson, Sterling Smith, and Rafael Maia were nowhere to be found offensively. Sheldon Jeter returned to the lineup after sitting out the Florida State game following the concussion protocol. Chris Jones and Damon Wilson were 0-8 from the field for two points. You just have to get more from those guys - at least some of them.
We may not know what exactly we have just yet, but the longer this up and down stuff continues, we're forced with the realization that Pitt is a decent, but not great team. Things are sort of coming into focus and I think we'll continue to see more of the ups and downs we've seen the past couple of weeks. Pitt will win some and, given the many difficult games left, likely lose a few more the rest of the way.
Will it be good enough for an NCAA Tournament berth? That remains to be seen, but here's what we know. The Panthers still have only four losses and aren't all that far down the conference standings. They have 16 wins, which is actually tied for the second-most in the conference. Because of that, preaching doom and gloom doesn't seem at all appropriate. The problem is that their schedule gets increasingly more difficult from here on out, so a number like the 16 wins may be a bit of fools gold. But even with the many tests they still have, there are still several very winnable games such as Virginia Tech (two), Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Syracuse.
The Panthers aren't near the bottom of the ACC as some of those earlier wins I mentioned indicate and this is hardly a throwaway year. But by the same token, when they consistently come out flat offensively, expectations have to be tempered. Right now this is a very middle of the road team and with the recent inconsistencies, there's little reason to believe that's going to change all that much.