Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The 2013/2014 Panthers Men's basketball team: defending and rebounding its way to the NIT

I haven't posted an entry in this blog for quite some time. It wasn't intentional, in the very least, but over the course of the summer, I picked up two more football writing gigs, which, added to my original football writing gig, gave me three football writing gigs.

For a man whose writing gigs don't really pay the bills, that's a lot of writing gigs.

Therefore, you'll have to excuse me for my prolonged absence from all things "Pittsburgh's Best Sports Blog."

However, I would like to rectify  that (if ever so briefly) by talking about the Pitt Panthers Men's basketball team.

For a sports lover like Yours truly, March is one of the most awesome times of the year. And it wasn't so long ago, when the Panthers were a very surprising 18-2 and 6-1 in their first year as a member of the ACC, that I took for granted being able to irrationally pick my favorite college basketball team to advance further in the NCAA Tournament than I had any right to.

Heading into their January 27 game against Duke at the Peterson Events Center, fans were discussing the possibility of the Panthers actually winning the regular season ACC title,with only highly ranked Syracuse (a fellow former member of the old Big East) standing in the way.

Unfortunately, the Blue Devils proved that talent trumps everything (yes, Coach Dixon, even rebounding and defense), as they pulled away from Pitt in what would be the beginning of a prolonged slump that has yet to see its end--and time is running out.

If you research the Panthers' offensive numbers, you'll see they've averaged 72.3 ppg (points per game), so far this season. However, that's a bit misleading. Over the past 10 games, dating back to that 80-65 loss to Duke in late January, Pitt has averaged  64.2 ppg and have lost six of 10.

During that span the Panthers also lost to Virginia, Syracuse and North Carolina (certainly no shame in losses to those teams, all ranked in the top 20). The real shame may come from the fact that Pitt needed overtime to beat a lowly Miami team, double overtime to beat an even lower Virginia Tech team and also didn't look very sharp in victories over Boston College and Notre Dame (also in OT).

And in addition to the four losses to the aforementioned ranked teams, the Panthers also lost recent home games to Florida State and NC State, two teams that aren't even on the NCAA bubble.

Speaking of the bubble, Pitt is now firmly entrenched on it. There are no wins against ranked teams on the season's resume, and as of this writing, the Panthers RPI--maybe the most important ranking in determining if and where a team will be seeded in the tournament--is 53.

With only one game remaining before the ACC tournament, things don't look good for Pitt. You would think a 22-8 record and a 10-7 conference mark would all but secure an at-large bid, but this is a bit of a down year for the ACC, and the Panthers have done very little to help  their cause.

Of course, this is a tired old song. I mentioned the 64.2 ppg over the past 10, but even that seems kind of high, considering how awful the Panthers offense has been at the end of games.

Head coach Jamie Dixon always preaches rebounding and defense, but just once, one time, I'd like to see him emphasize offense, and recruit top-end scorers into the program. Easier said than done, of course, as most of your top-notch scorers tend to go to the traditional powerhouses, which Pitt might actually be right now with the help of an appearance or two in the Final Four in previous years.

Most Panthers fans feel as if their team gets screwed most Selection Sundays (a claim that I certainly can't dispute, considering some of the questionable seeds in recent years), and this year, because of the above-mentioned statistics, the NIT might be all we have to hope for in a couple weeks.

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