Pittsburgh has started the season undefeated at 4-0, but none of the victories would impress anyone, because the Panthers have not played a viable opponent. The schedule does not get much harder through the end of November into December.
Pitt already knows how talented two of their ACC opponents are, because they have been dealing with Syracuse and Notre Dame for years in the Big East. Now, Pitt must face the challenges of Tobacco Road. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia will not be kind, and facing weaker opponents in the non-conference season will do little to help the Panthers.
However, Pitt does not have as much say in their schedule as many may think. NCAA rules only allow a team to schedule 29 games, unless the said team is in an exempted preseason tournament. Pitt has this designation. Therefore, the Panthers have 13 non-conference games and 18 conference games. Nine non-conference games at home must be scheduled for financial reasons. This leaves Pitt with lower-level games because of one-year deals, an annual traditional game with Duquesne and the game against Penn State. The other two are the exempted tournament games. This basically forces Pitt to get the most out of its pre-ACC schedule. Therefore, the players’ maturation is of utmost important.
The other problem with Pitt lies within the roster. Five of the team’s minute leaders from last season have departed. This hurts Dixon’s style from last season, because not one player averaged more than 30 minutes per game. So far this season, Pitt has been able to do the same, but it has been against weaker competition. For Pitt to be successful, the Panthers will have to up the minutes for Talib Zanna (15.3 PPG, 9 RPG) and Lamar Patterson (13.8 PPG, 5 RPG, 5.5 APG). If these players can adjust to five more minutes, Pitt can be a real threat. If these players can not adjust, the roster does not offer enough depth to provide quality bench minutes. Nine players are averaging more than 15 minutes, but the offense is not coming through. Only three players are averaging more than 10 points. Also, Pitt, a team that is heralded for its offense, is only shooting 38.8 percent from three-point land. This number would be fine if Pitt was playing higher-ranked teams, but it should be higher at this point based on competition.
Pitt will have a tougher challenge against Texas Tech Monday, but it still will not prepare them for the ACC. The Panthers will need to get the most from every game and find a way to stay up through the end of their non-conference schedule, or a rough inaugural ACC season could be on the horizon.