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Last five games present interesting test for Pitt basketball team

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC is always difficult but Pitt wrapped up a particularly brutal stretch recently with games against Miami, North Carolina, Clemson, and Louisville. Those first three teams were ranked as of last week and the Cardinals are no slouch, either.

As expected, Pitt fell mostly on its face. The Miami game was the only one that was really respectable and even that was a 12-point loss. Pitt lost the other three by an average of about 30 points a game and was completely blown out of the water. The idea that they’ve improved (something I personally believed) looked a lot harder to prove after those beatings.

The Panthers have five games left and things ease up quite a bit. None of those games are going to be easy for a Pitt team that remains winless in ACC play. But the Panthers should be able to keep games a little closer and possibly pull out their first conference win of the season as the year winds down.

Pitt opens up against 15-10 Boston College on Tuesday at home. The Eagles have pulled off some shocking upsets over ranked Duke and Miami teams and also beat a few others. They’ve also looked bad at times in a 30-point loss to North Carolina and an 18-point defeat to Syracuse.

The Panthers then go on the road in a game against 17-8 Florida State but return home for what looks like their best chance at a win against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have squeaked out a couple of conference wins but are only 9-16 on the year and 2-11 in the ACC. Pitt also gets that game at home and if there’s one contest left to circle as a Panthers fan, it’s probably that one.

Pitt will then play a virtually unwinnable game at home against Virginia before finishing the season at Notre Dame. It would be great if the locations for those games were switched. Pitt doesn’t have much of a chance at beating Virginia anywhere so the fact that it’s at the Pete shouldn’t help much. But playing a 15-10 Notre Dame team at home would probably help things a little since that’s a much more winnable game.

Not easy games for such a bad Pitt team this season, but all told, four of the five teams Pitt faces the rest of this season are in the bottom half of the ACC. Expect to hear quite a bit about that going forward, even if it’s kind of deceptive. There are still some pretty good teams there, after all. The idea, though, is that the schedule gets easier than what it has been lately.

While it might not be realistic to expect more than one win in that group (and, truthfully, expecting a win against Wake Forest is a reach, too - winnable yes but no guarantee), I think these next five games will help shape the outlook of the team from a fan perspective during the offseason. If Pitt goes winless, the calls for head coach Kevin Stallings to go will only get louder. But if they can manage a win over Wake Forest and manage to keep most of the others close, that should help Stallings’ cause a little.

At this point, Stallings really has no chance to get a large portion of the fanbase on his side this season. The year has just been so bad that even looking dramatically better isn’t going to suddenly send his approval rate skyrocketing. If he keeps his job, he’ll endure an offseason of many fans calling for his head. But if the Panthers can grab a victory and manage to play competitive games, he can at least make the argument that the team is starting to improve as they head into next year and that’s really a best-case scenario for him.

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