In looking at the college basketball season for the Pittsburgh Panthers, you don’t have to look far to figure out why they have lost four games. While Pittsburgh has an impressive record of 18-4 (6-3 in the ACC), the Panthers really should be even better than that. But in its biggest games, Pittsburgh’s offense has a habit of shutting down and that was on display again Sunday as the Panthers dropped their second consecutive home game with a 48-45 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers (17-5, 8-1 ACC).
On Sunday, Pittsburgh shot a pathetic 31.9 percent from the field, connecting on just 15 field goals in the entire game. When you take out Pitt’s work from three-point range (4-for-11, including one lucky bank shot on a heave at the end of the shot clock), the Panthers were a mere 11-for-36 inside the arc (30.6 percent). Pittsburgh did itself no favors from the free-throw line, shooting 11-for-19 from the charity stripe.
Star forward Lamar Patterson set the tone for the Panthers, hitting just 3-of-14 from the field. He finished with just 10 points, not enough production for a player of his caliber in such an important game. Patterson didn’t get much help either. Jamel Artis had 11 points, the only other Panther to score in double figures.
Lack of offense has always been the rub for the Panthers, though. Known as a rough and tumble defensive team, the Pitt defense did its job today, holding Virginia to just 48 points and 40 percent shooting from the field. Neither team scored more than 27 points in either half and the Panthers held the Cavaliers without any field goals at all for eight minutes and 14 seconds until Malcolm Brogdon hit the game-winning three-pointer with 0.4 seconds to go.
The truth of the matter is that any consistent offense at all for the Panthers would have been enough to beat Virginia Sunday. While the Cavaliers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, Pitt may well have had the best player on the floor in Patterson and they are usually unbeatable at home. Now, both Duke and Virginia have come to Pittsburgh in the matter of six days and beaten the Panthers.
Pitt scored 65 in the loss to Duke, but were still beaten by 15 points. In their other losses, point totals of 43 vs. Cincinnati and 54 vs. Syracuse were just enough to get the Panthers beaten by a total of six points.
The script repeated itself Sunday, as 45 points saw Pittsburgh fall short again. The Panthers now find themselves in a tie for third place in the ACC at 6-3, but Duke holds the tiebreaker thanks to its win over the Panthers Monday night.
Clemson lurks in fifth at 5-3. But it may be too late for Pittsburgh to fix its offensive issues. The Panthers don’t play Duke or Virginia again this season, and thus must finish with a better record than both to have any chance to win the ACC. Pittsburgh does have a rematch with Syracuse on Feb. 12.
But given the level of the Orange’s defense, and Pitt’s inability to score consistently in big games against top opponents, there’s no reason to think things will be different in the second game against Syracuse, especially with Pittsburgh now looking unusually vulnerable at home. But the Panthers are certainly still going to the NCAA Tournament.
How deep Pittsburgh plays into March will be determined by how much the offense improves between now and then. Based on what’s been seen in Pitt’s biggest games this season, the Panthers have a long way to go to be considered contenders at the conference and national levels.