We all knew Pitt had a difficult challenge against No. 7 Duke tonight. But the Panthers weren’t just beaten at home, they were annihilated, 87-52.
Pitt had to play a nearly perfect game just to keep it close and, not only did they do that, but Duke shot the ball really well. The Panthers didn’t play good defense, shot poorly, had too many turnovers, and lost the rebounding battle. It was basically your perfect storm for a blowout loss.
Offensively, besides the turnovers, the stat that hurt Pitt the most was their three-point shooting. Pitt has been competent there at times but when they are off, they’re really off. They were only 4-22 from beyond the arc so that was a big problem. Unlike some other games, I’m not going to overanalyze how many they took tonight. Duke jumped out to a 10-0 lead and Pitt was behind by more than 20 points for much of the game. That’s going to lead to more threes and with Duke’s size down low, I’m not even going to complain that they took that many. But the point that they missed so many is still important because it just helps explain why the game got out of hand.
The biggest problem I had with Pitt tonight was one of effort. Someone (I think Jared Wilson-Frame) said earlier this year that Pitt had not been playing all 40 minutes and that was really true tonight. They came out like deer in headlights at the start and Duke shot really well.
Like any reasonable person, I recognize the talent disparity. Expecting Pitt to compete with Duke based on the skill level of the players is foolhardy. But for crying out loud, there were so many sequences where Pitt was so fundamentally inept. Once, three (and maybe four) guys were around the basket and none jumped to secure a rebound. Some turnovers were just careless. One time, Grayson Allen attempted a layup (and made it) from just inside the free throw line, beating one defender and going past another. Too often, Duke had wide open looks because guys were completely out of position.
Some of this was just really poor effort, particularly on defense, Duke’s excellent ball movement, notwithstanding. At one point early in the game, I realized this was less about talent and more about simply playing bad basketball.
Pitt eventually did get the 26-point halftime lead down to 17, even forcing Duke to call a timeout. But that was a blip on the radar screen, so to speak, and Duke against built the lead back up and made it bigger than it was before. The aberration that Pitt could play with Duke didn’t last long and the Blue Devils cruising to an even bigger lead emphasized the Panthers’ brief success was more fools gold than anything.
I don’t want to throw out a barometer for a Kevin Stallings fire-o-meter after every game. That’s overkill. But I have to think these are the kinds of performances that can accelerate his dismissal. National TV, a pretty weak crowd for such a big game, fanbase that is really disinterested. In general, I think that if the team shows much of a pulse at all that Stallings comes back for another season. His argument will be that this was not only his first year with his own players but also that those players are mostly one year removed from high school. That certainly is true and, if we’re being honest, is the argument Stallings should make.
But 35-point losses in such a big spotlight and a fanbase screaming for a coaching chance virtually since Stallings was hired simply can’t help. Losing by 15 on the road is one thing. Losing by 35 at home, regardless of the competition, is quite another.
One final general point about Stallings is that we’ve heard (most recently from Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams) that he is a great offensive coach. Others, including Roy Williams, have said as much. I tend to believe their opinions and don’t simply think all of the coaches that have gone out of their way to offer Stallings praise are wrong.
But when you score 54 points against Penn State, 53 against Miami, 51 against Louisville, and 52 tonight against Duke, the one selling point you’ve got as a coach looks a lot weaker. Throw in the 60-point game against West Virginia, the 62-point game against Navy, and the 63 they scored against Towson, and you’ve got more than 40% of the team’s games where the offense has been horrible. Proving that Stallings is an offensive genius, even if he actually is, gets harder and harder to do with each of these low-scoring outputs - even with a young team.
Stallings can survive some of these games but he needs to find a way to at least knock off some of the weaker teams in the conference. These types of losses coupled by a winless conference schedule or one that includes only a win or two is a pretty ugly combination.