Newsflash: The Pitt men’s basketball team isn’t very good. With an almost entirely new team consisting primarily of players that had never played D-I basketball, that was to be expected. The Panthers currently sit at 5-5 when in most seasons, you’d expect them to be 9-1 or, at worst, 8-2. If there was any doubt that this year is a total rebuild, there isn’t any more.
But if there’s one thing to be said for the team, it’s that things are showing signs of getting better. That’s evident from what we saw early in the year.
Pitt began its season with a 71-62 loss to Navy. The Midshipmen aren’t the worst team in the world but, as we saw when they were routed by 33 to Miami, they’re not real good by comparison to the top teams in college basketball, either. The Panthers followed that up with probably their most surprising loss, falling to Montana at home. After a win over UC Santa Barbara, the Panthers then suffered their most embarrassing loss of the year with a 31-point blowout (that should have been worse) defeat to Penn State. They sat at 1-3 and had just been pounded by what looks to be a middle-of-the-road major conference team on a neutral court.
Since then? The Panthers have started to turn things around.
After that ugly loss to the Nittany Lions, Pitt was competitive against P5 team Oklahoma State, losing by only six. The Panthers then went on to win four in a row, including defeating local rival Duquesne in the City Game. That was important because Pitt lost last year’s game with a much more experienced team, which was one of the lowlights of the season. Duquesne’s team was alarmingly bad at 10-22 last year and, despite not having star Jamel Artis, was still a squad that should have been beaten.
The competition in those games was pretty light to be sure. The most impressive win over that stretch was probably a victory over a 5-5 Lehigh team. But what Pitt recently did in competing with a Top 20 West Virginia team this weekend proved the players are getting better. The Panthers rallied in that game where they trailed by 18 at halftime to get to within two in the second half before losing by nine, fading in the last couple of minutes. As I mentioned afterward, there were a lot of positives that came out of that game.
Things aren’t perfect - not by a long shot. That’s evidenced in a disappointing game against High Point where the team won but didn’t look very impressive. It was also seen in blowing a lead against Mount St. Mary’s where they had to go to overtime before ultimately prevailing. And while 14 turnovers was probably a little better than expected against West Virginia’s press, that number was still too high.
But the point is that, in comparing the team’s play over these last six games to the first four, it’s clear that the Panthers are starting to improve. And that bodes well for head coach Kevin Stallings who, if nothing else, needs to show by the end of the year that some of his players are developing.