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Pitt falls to No. 23 Louisville, 66-51

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

I hate this dumb song but it seems appropriate here.

Pitt defeated Louisville earlier this month but today, they were no match for the Cardinals, losing 66-51. The Panthers drop to 12-8 on the year while Louisville improves to 15-5.

Your game story, should you be in need of one, is that Pitt was cold from the field in the second half and shot 35% for the game. Despite not having a great start, the Panthers actually held a 33-29 lead at halftime as Louisville didn’t look that impressive, either. But the Panthers went absolutely nowhere offensively in the second, managing only 18 points. That led to not only a loss but a somewhat lopsided one.

The surprise, if there is one, is that Louisville won by such a large margin even though they didn’t play particularly well themselves. They shot just under 40% from the field themselves, and only narrowly won the rebounding margin (39 to 36). But they had fewer turnovers, twice as many made free throws, and added a couple more three-pointers.

Out of the gate after halftime, Pitt was cold. And before you knew it, the second half was halfway over with the Panthers scoring a grand total of six points. After a Trey McGowens bucket with 15:37 left, Pitt didn’t score for more than six minutes. You simply can’t have those kinds of stretches and still expect to win. Pitt went from a four-point road lead to being down by seven at that point and it just slipped away from them.

But games like that will happen and now’s a good time to remind everyone that this team has already exceeded expectations this year. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating.

These. Guys. Will. Be. Fine.

Pitt is starting three freshmen and a sophomore. Expecting these guys to be lights out competitively every night isn’t realistic. Sometimes the losses will be close and other times, they won’t be. And sometimes, they will play really well and win games, as they did against Louisville and a Top 15 Florida State team earlier this year. There will be ups and downs, twists and turns. Personally, I expected the game to be closer but, well, I also didn’t expect the team to lay an egg offensively for an entire half. But the reality is that those kinds of games will happen when you’re starting such a young group.

That young group struggled today with Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Au’Diese Toney clanking their way to an 8-28 shooting day. But some pumping of the brakes should be exercised before trying to throw these guys overboard or declaring them not good enough. On the season, they were shooting over 43% from the field as a group. For three freshmen guards, you take that with little push back.

I will concede perimeter shooting is not necessarily a strength for the team. And while we’re at it, there’s the inevitable discussion of sorely needing a big man. But I hardly expect that trio to do it all, either — particularly as true freshmen. What we all realize (or should realize) is that the team is still missing pieces. They need a shooter. They need a more assertive big man than the on again, off again Terrell Brown. What Pitt has is a foundation, not a complete team. That’s about the size of it. Sometimes, that will be enough to win games. But to be a consistent force in the toughest conference in basketball it requires more than that. And that’s fine.

Rebuilding takes time.

I’ve used this argument before but it’s my favorite example of how players mature. Brad Wanamaker came to Pitt and was a complete dumpster fire as a freshman, shooting 33% from the field. Many people, including myself, hastily declared him as unfit for the rigors of Big East basketball and decided in our infinite wisdom that he would be better off at a place like, I don’t know, Miami of Ohio. What happened? Wanamaker drastically improved, got more comfortable, and became one of the team’s best players.

He didn’t become a superstar here but he also didn’t stop improving. Wanamaker went overseas. He dominated there and gained all kinds of accolades. He got more attention and these days, you can find him in a little league we like to call the NBA.

No one in their wildest dreams, probably including Wanamaker himself, would have thought that would have been possible after seeing him bumble his way through a terrible freshman year. Yet here we are. Pitt’s freshmen have shown infinitely more than Wanamaker or, frankly, the freshmen Pitt had last year. These guys can absolutely ball and I have zero concern for the future of the program.

The Panthers have exactly one upperclassman in their starting lineup. Despite that and coming off of a winless conference season, Pitt is 12-8 on the season with two conference wins and plenty of more opportunities to add to that total. Disappointing game but just because the team has overperformed to this point doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to some bumps and bruises along the way.

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