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Winless: Pitt drops regular season finale to Notre Dame to finish without an ACC victory

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt men’s basketball team had been on the wrong end of lopsided defeats all season so I suppose one more couldn’t hurt.

The Panthers (8-23) dropped their regular season finale to Notre Dame (18-12), 73-56, to officially finish without a conference win before the postseason. It was yet another 20ish-point loss and was the sixth time in the final eight games that the Panthers lost by more than 15 points. These haven’t been just losses, they’ve been outright beatdowns. Pitt will have another chance in the ACC Tournament but went a ‘perfect’ 0-18 in the regular season against conference foes.

That’s just ... something. Most teams, even bad ones, manage to get lucky and win a game or two. But while Pitt came close a couple of times, on most nights they were overmatched. We shouldn’t become numb to the manner of these losses, either. Conference games are supposed to be close. You hear coaches talk about everyone being tough and you see evidence of that when even the weaker teams compete against the better ones. If you lose a conference game by ten points, that’s not great. By 15? You’re really doing something wrong.

Pitt lost more than half (ten) of their conference games by 15 or more points and lost three more by 14. Sure, the Panthers competed in some of those before things got out of hand late, but that’s still a whole lot of lopsidedness.

I don’t want to focus too much on the actual game here because, it went about as everyone expected. It was a pretty consistent theme. If I’m taking one thing away from Pitt’s woes this season, it’s that the offensive game plan has had a similar theme during most conference games. Jared Wilson-Frame, until he was joined by Parker Stewart is really the team’s most dynamic player on offense. Certainly, he’s the one with the most initiative. But having him lead the team hasn’t worked. He was 7-19 tonight and came into the game shooting 37%. Statistically, that’s the worst among regulars on the team, save for Kene Chukwuka.

Wilson-Frame is a decent enough player and capable of having some really good games. But those have been too few and if you have one guy taking 20ish shots a night while making about a third of them, that just isn’t going to work. Pitt was in a pickle this year because he’s one of the few guys that can make something happen. After all, someone’s got to shoot. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year’s offense, it’s that Pitt better hope some of these guys get a little more assertive and competent because Ryan Luther and Bryce Golden aren’t going to suddenly turn this team around.

Keep in mind, I don’t even particularly blame Wilson-Frame for most of this. He’s surrounded by inexperience and was also still playing his first Division I games himself. He landed the role of leader by default. My only point here is that, we’ve seen this formula and it didn’t work. Pitt cannot hope to have the same type of formula next year and win games simply because players are a year older.

Pitt’s problems, of course, extend far beyond their offensive ability. Defense has been an issue at times and rebounding woes and turnovers have plagued them as well. But they’ve failed to score more than 60 points in six of their final games, so that’s clearly the biggest of them all.

Athletics director Heather Lyke spoke this week about not making an evaluation on Kevin Stallings until the season was officially over. But it’s also hard to imagine a decision hasn’t been made yet. Any decision to keep Stallings would seem to be motivated by finances. If this was really about wanting to give him another year to prove himself, you have to imagine that decision would have already been made and that the final two games couldn’t possibly make a difference.

As for the ACC Tournament, Pitt will play on Tuesday afternoon against the No. 10 seed, which could be the Irish (currently they’re 10th in the conference).

Oh, good.

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