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After promising start, Pitt taking its lumps in ACC play

Early in the season, the Pitt men’s basketball team could do no wrong.

Okay, that may be going a bit too far. But there was no doubt the team was not only meeting expectations, but exceeding them.

Pitt got off to a blistering 6-0 start before losing a one-point heartbreaker on the road to a ranked Iowa team. And despite a couple of more non-conference losses, the Panthers still finished with a 10-3 record. The ten wins, by the way, was already two more than they had all of last year.

In ACC play, the team even proved it belonged. After being outgunned against North Carolina, Pitt rebounded for its first ACC win since 2017 by defeating a now-ranked Louisville team. The Panthers then narrowly lost against ranked NC State but then came back to knock off No. 11 Florida State, winning by double digits. Pitt was about as impressive in those four games as they have been unimpressive in the last four, which have all resulted in losses.

At 12-5, there was even talk of sneaking into a postseason tournament. Now? Not so much.

Pitt still technically has a winning record but the team has undoubtedly cooled. The Panthers have lost their last four games and, while the competition has been good, the results have been particularly bad. Pitt has lost each game by double digits and while the margin of victory in any hasn’t been greater than 15 points, those final scores have been a little deceiving.

Duke had a 19-point halftime lead and ultimately ‘settled’ for a 15-point win when they led by as many as 23 and could have probably won by 30. The Panthers also found themselves down by 28 against Clemson in their last game before closing late to make it a more respectable 13-point loss.

Part of the problem is that the offense has been less than stellar. Not only hasn’t the team reached 70 points in any of those games, but they’ve shot a combined 38.6% from the field. Couple that with the 15 turnovers per game the Panthers have averaged and you can see why the losses are piling up.

So what’s the problem?

A reader recently theorized in the comments section of one of our posts that the team could be battling fatigue. And given that they’re so young with several guys playing big minutes, I suppose that’s a possibility.

But the Panthers have also played three of those four games away from home and the lone home contest happened to be against Duke, arguably the top team in the nation.

Winning on the road for such a young team is just very difficult. Sure, elite teams with top recruits can and do find ways to do that. But that’s not what this team is. This team has several promising underclassmen but little else, really. Senior Jared Wilson-Frame can provide a spark at times but beyond that, the Panthers are mostly playing with underclassmen taking on the biggest roles. In addition to that, they are undersized.

Even beyond that, young teams almost always endure some rough stretches. Expecting such a team to get through a season without some losing along the way isn’t generally realistic unless, again, you’re a Kentucky, you’re a Duke, etc. That Pitt is running into such complications should hardly be cause for alarm. If they’re allowing the losses to pile up like this when they’re juniors and seniors, that’s an issue. But right now, I’m more inclined to take what I can get with this bunch — and that generally will mean the occasional conference win sandwiched in between defeats.

Will Pitt win more games this year? My hunch is yes. The ACC is stacked but Pitt’s schedule was incredibly front loaded. Taking themselves out of the equation, the Panthers, in fact, still have games against the bottom six teams in the conference with dates against Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Wake Forest. And despite the fact that Pitt’s ACC schedule has been among the most difficult to this point, the Panthers still own more wins than five of those teams and are tied with Clemson with 12 victories.

Can the Panthers defeat all of those teams? No. Will they win even half of those games? I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it because four of them are on the road. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Pitt come away with one or two wins there . Pitt also has home games with Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and an NC State team that beat them by only six on the road. The Panthers grabbing a win in that group isn’t an impossible task, either.

There’s no denying the Panthers have run into a wall of sorts in these last four games. But I’m also not in the camp that suggests this season is over quite yet. Many more games remain and given how Pitt has played against the likes of Iowa, Florida State, and Louisville earlier this season, a few more wins certainly aren’t out of the question.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.