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Pitt drops game to Virginia Tech, 67-57

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt went on the road today in a game against Virginia Tech. As I mentioned coming in, the Hokies have been a bit of a mess recently, dropping five straight games. Turns out, all they needed was a game against Pitt. The Panthers got off to a slow start and overall just looked bad in a 67-57 loss Saturday night.

To the specifics, first. Pitt shot horribly, making only 35% of their shots from the field, including going 5-21 from three-point range. Even when the Panthers got to the free throw line it didn’t pay off much as they were 10-18 there. In fact, Virginia Tech shot the three-pointer (12-32 for 37%) better than the Panthers did overall.

Four players got into double figures but no one had a standout game or finished with more than 12 points. Ryan Murphy went scoreless for the second straight contest in limited action. Trey McGowens (eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists) flirted with a triple double but, yeah. Just not a lot of offense tonight. What Pitt was really missing was the kind of big offensive performance they’ve had from several guys on occasion this year. Lots of contributory performances but no leader.

And at its crux, that’s really the biggest problem with this team other than the ridiculously slow starts (23 points in the first half tonight) — there’s simply not a leader. Maybe Justin Champagnie develops into that. Maybe Tony does. Maybe McGowens or Johnson. But for right now, the team is devoid of any real leadership. Even a guy like Jared Wilson-Frame who may technically not have been the best player gave Pitt leadership when he was here and the team simply doesn’t have that right now.

You keep hoping this team will turn the corner. Not in the context of this season, really. Just in general. The Panthers, as we know, are quite young. But the inconsistency is just, well, maddening at times. There’s having an off game and then there’s what the Panthers roll out on a regular basis — just a string of up and down performances where you never quite know what to expect.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. Pitt is making progress. This is the best Panthers team in the last several seasons and they are making some strides. And it’s clear the program is at least pointed upward. But by any reasonable standard, there’s much work to be done. In the end, there’s a fine line between wanting more and tempering expectations/understanding where this team is right now.

Another thing I also want to point out is the ACC record. We’ve spent a lot of time this year boasting about Pitt is winning more ACC games and is just much more competitive in conference. But the reality is the conference this year is also not your typical ACC conference. Teams are struggling and, while you give Pitt credit for staying out of the basement, the reality is that the ACC is really down this season. In a typical ACC year where you see eight or nine NCAA Tournament teams, I’m inclined to think there’d be less success.

Again, not to diminish the positives Pitt has had this year. But, keeping things in perspective, the Panthers’ 6-9 ACC record is not as impressive as it might be in other years — as much as a 6-9 record can be, anyway.

These are the kinds of games you’d like to see Pitt winning a bit more. Games against teams with similar records and teams that, frankly, are not world beaters. But the Panthers just aren’t there quite yet so we’re forced to suffer through the ups and downs of a team very much still rebuilding.

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