More of the same may technically be a bit unfair as Pitt nearly upset No. 12 Miami on the road. But in the end, the Panthers dropped yet another game against a ranked opponent in a blowout loss to North Carolina on Sunday, 85-64. For Pitt, it was another missed opportunity to grab a big statement win.
Briefly (because I don't have much of a stomach to look too deep into this one) addressing this game specifically, we saw Jamie Dixon make a change at shooting guard, inserting Chris Jones into the starting lineup (Michael Young's move to the bench sounded like some sort of disciplinary measure) over Sterling Smith. I'm fine with that and while Smith is capable of having some bigger games every now and then, Jones is, too. Smith's biggest problem has been inconsistency and now under 40% from the field on the season, I think a move like this makes sense.
The Panthers continue to struggle with their shot and when you make less than 40% of your attempts from the field, this is generally the result when facing a top ten team. Add in the 19 turnovers they had and, voila, you've got a tailor-made recipe for disaster. On the season, Pitt is still shooting a somewhat deceptive 47% but there's no doubt that as the competition has increased, the Panthers' offense hasn't been nearly the same as it was earlier in the year. That's true of most teams, but Pitt is struggling terribly right now, having scored fewer than 65 points in six of the past nine games.
They shot 44% against Miami, and under 40% against the Tar Heels, Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina State. Heck, even in a win against Florida State, Pitt was under 40%. ACC play has been very, very different for them offensively, to say the least.
So what are my current thoughts on the season?
I don't blame Pitt for losing today at North Carolina. They're a top ten team and it was a road game - it's a game they weren't expected to win. But where the frustration starts to mount is when you see them fall time and again to the better teams. Pitt has lost all five of their games against ranked teams and, newsflash, four of them were by double digits. In years past, the Panthers almost always find a way to win at least one or two of these games and an 0-5 whiff to date is surprising. Pitt still has a chance to win a ranked game with a date against currently-ranked Louisville and also against a fringe Duke team. They also could get a few in the ACC Tournament. However, based on what we've seen so far, it gets increasingly difficult to expect Pitt to win either one - even at home.
I think that most fans can understand not beating most of the ranked teams this year. I just think they want to see the team have some success against them and that really hasn't happened. And when you consider that three of those five games were absolutely ugly, it makes it even worse.
Pitt's goal from here on out is pretty simple to me - win four out of their final six regular season games. A split against Louisville and Duke would be good as would winning three of their other four against Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech. Many fans probably think that those latter four are all winnable. They are, but three of four are on the road. Pitt could easily drop a couple or even three, to be honest. Four out of six here and an ACC Tournament win gives them ten regular season conference wins and 22 overall, which should be enough to reach the NCAAs.
And let's not kid ourselves here - right now, that mostly looks like the ceiling here. You can never say definitively that a team only has the capability of getting in. The tournament is all about matchups and there's nothing to suggest that Pitt couldn't get in and reach the second weekend. But as we look at what they've done lately and as a whole against better teams, the Panthers could very easily squeak in and be out before we have a chance to blink. At a bare minimum, these guys really have to ensure they just get in at this point to show some measurable progress this season.