Pitt made a run of things against No. 8 Florida State tonight but ultimately fell, 82-67. The Panthers are now 15-12 and, having lost four of their past five games (including their last three), are in the middle of a slide.
Pitt hung with Florida State for about a half. They trailed only 38-33 at the break and you generally will take that when playing a top ten team on the road for a team like Pitt. But the wheels eventually came off the track.
Six minutes into the second half, Pitt trailed by ten. A few minutes later, by 15. The lead ballooned to as much as 22 before Pitt scored some late buckets to make things a bit more respectable. Aside from two garbage buckets scored by reserves in the final 30 seconds, Pitt scored two field goals in the final ten minutes of the game.
The Panthers did manage 67 total points but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with the Seminoles, who shot a blistering 50% from the field. The Panthers? Oh, just another rough shooting night, connecting on fewer than 38% of their shots from the field. Mix in a 4-22 performance from three-point range and ... yep.
Pitt scored 67 points, though. Something must have gone right on offense. Well, yes. Pitt got to the free throw line 26 times and knocked down 21 of those attempts. Take even half of those out of the equation and you get a much clearer picture of how bad the offense struggled. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll take points wherever I can get them. Two free throws are just as good as a field goal. But even if you score 21 points from free throws that doesn’t excuse shooting so poorly from the field.
You probably don’t need me to tell you this but Pitt is shooting not just bad, but flat out horrible. Coming into tonight, they ranked near the bottom of the country 314th, connecting on approximately 41% of their shots. That number, shockingly, is going to get even worse after tonight.
On some level, I think any level of analysis of this team is overkill — even the most mundane type. It’s just not necessary. Why is Pitt struggling? Because they can’t shoot. That sort of oversimplification won’t satisfy a lot of folks but, well, that’s it. I mean, I suppose we can talk about different offensive approaches they can take. Different ways to free guys up to get higher percentage shots. Fine. Even in that case, I’ve seen Pitt miss point blank shots. Some of this, much of it, can be boiled down to the fact that this is a collection of athletic players that simply have trouble being efficient scorers. That’s what all of this boils down to.
I have seen other Pitt teams have a hard time scoring points. Jamie Dixon teams were routinely criticized for this in the past. But I’m not sure I’ve seen many that have consistently shot so badly night after night after night. Pitt has surely had its good nights offensively. It’s just that it sometimes seems like they’ve been devoid of even the ‘blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while’ scenario.
The Panthers were bad last year, yet they still shot slightly better (42%) than this team is shooting. Pitt is shooting about as bad as they did two years ago but that team won a grand total of eight games. Part of this, of course, is that Pitt has no real inside presence and hopefully that eventually comes under Capel. But even just taking the performance of the marquee guards, Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, you should be concerned.
Johnson (3-14) and McGowens (0-7) continue to put up some shockingly bad results. Both are now shooting about 5% worse than they did last year and that’s a really big number considering that they didn’t light the world on fire even last year. Regression is a nasty word and I’m not sure if these guys are actually worse players. But it’s hard to look at what they’re doing this season compared to last season and declare them to be any better.
Part of Pitt’s problem, I would maintain, is the utter disappearance of Ryan Murphy. Murphy, who was legitimately the team’s best scorer earlier in the season, is now not even a viable role player. He was held scoreless in his last three games and managed only two points tonight. Pitt has many issues but I think losing all productivity from Murphy is certainly a problem for a team that already had trouble scoring points.
In the comments section of a recent thread, someone (perhaps a few people) mentioned the potential of fatigue for these guys. That could be a factor, I suppose. But the other part of me looks at how poorly they’ve shot the ball all year and wants to dismiss that. It’s nearing the end of the season and with things slipping away for an NCAA Tournament berth or a .500 conference record, you just wonder how much interest there is in general. I suppose we’ll find out in the next four games.
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