Part of me couldn’t help but feel that it was fitting for Pitt to lose the final game of 2012. Overall, it wasn’t a good year for Pitt. So much crap. So much that went wrong. How else could that year end, but with a loss?
That didn’t help my mood. A bit fouler than I wanted the rest of the evening.
Cinci made this a brutal game. And I say that in a complimentary way. They are not a particularly skilled team. They struggle on offense, and win by making the game ugly. They play defense extremely tough. They will force the officials to call fouls. They painfully reminded many Pitt fans of the Ben Howland and beginning of the Jamie Dixon time.
The romantics, will be upset about the loss because “that used to be the way Pitt played.” That somehow Pitt should still be playing that way. That, despite the obvious shortcomings of that approach. They will see the quote from Cashmere Wright and be saying, “that should be us!”
Wright said the constant pressure the Bearcats used took a toll on Pitt’s players in the second half.
“The first 30 minutes we’re going to try to wear you out as much as we can,” Wright said. “The last 10 minutes we want you to be as tired as possible so you can’t make those same decisions and free throws and shots that you made at the beginning of the game.
“We just keep pushing and keep grinding. Most teams don’t play how we play. Most teams, sooner or later, will get tired, will start making bad decisions and their shots will stop falling.”
How limited that approach can be in a season and especially in the NCAA Tournament. When the fouls really get called, you still don’t make your own shots, and the other team is still making shots — and especially free throws.
There was a reason everyone wanted to see the offensive talent improved. That fans wanted to move away from just ugly defense to win games.
But, that’s not enough, reasons must be found for the loss. Cue blaming the non-con for not getting the team ready.
Well, Dixon’s demeanor quickly soured when he was asked about Pitt’s absurdly weak non-conference schedule. Specifically, he was asked how so many games against North Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State and Kennesaw State get Pitt ready for strong Big East teams such as Cincinnati.
“That question has been asked every year of every team in our league for the past 10 years,” Dixon fairly growled. “We’ve had the best record in conference play over those 10 years so that should tell you something. When you win, no one says anything. When you lose, it’s easy to find reasons. But it’s hard for me to say what happened a month-and-a-half ago had anything to do with today. I don’t think it caused us to miss free throws or be outrebounded. We just didn’t get it done.”
I beg to disagree.
No proof is offered, because when it comes to non-con schedules it is not there. It’s all about the “gut” or some other nebulous standard about how the team is prepared. Teams win playing a strong non-con. Teams lose. Then they play the conference slate.
Before embarking on their Big East Conference schedule in the 2002-03 basketball season, the Pitt Panthers faced a non-league schedule ranked 227th in the nation. They challenged themselves against St. Francis (Pa.), Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southeast Louisiana. After all that heavy lifting, they went out and won the Big East regular season championship.
In 2003-04, they faced the 234th-ranked schedule, with games against Chicago State, New Hampshire and, again, St. Francis. And the Panthers won the league again.
I favor a stronger non-con because I like to see good games. I thought this non-con schedule was garbage and boring to watch most of the time.
It’s one of those losses that have people casting about for reasons. Cahsmere Wright offered a corollary as to why Pitt wilted down the stretch against their defense.
But Bearcats guard Cashmere Wright hinted that it was a major reason in the Bearcats’ ability to wear down the Panthers in the second half of Monday’s 70-61 loss at the Petersen Events Center.
“After those long breaks it’s hard to play to your full potential, especially when someone is coming at you for full throttle for 40 minutes,” Wright said afterward.
Pitt played Kennesaw State Dec. 23 and then had three days off before reporting back to campus. The players were to report back to late on Dec. 26, but at least two players had travel problems and could not get back until Dec. 27, when the Panthers began preparations for Cincinnati.
Cinci lost on December 27, and never left their campus. Was that a factor? I don’t know. Maybe, but who cares.
I’m still annoyed about the loss because it was to a good team, and since it was the opener of Big East play, it becomes that much more magnified.
The officiating didn’t help for Pitt. While the officials called a lot of fouls, rather than call it consistently, they tried to call it “fair and balanced.” By which, I mean they tried to keep the number of fouls on both sides about even. That led to some really strange — and phantom — calls going against Pitt at times. It also played a role in the second half struggles. It isn’t the reason Pitt, lost but it played a role.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon called the loss “disappointing in every way.”
“The rebounding, defense, missed free throws while they made theirs,” Dixon said of Cincinnati making 25 of 35 free throws to Pitt‘s 15 of 25. “It just kind of all added up, and they came out with the win.”
Pitt shot 10-14 on FTs in the first half, 5-11 in the second. That, really was the most inexplicable difference from the first half. Cinci flipped it the other way. 9-16 in the first half and going 16-19 in the second half of FTs (including 8-10 in the final minute plus)
Pitt was 12-25 shooting in the first half, and 11-27 in the second half. Not a huge change, just a couple shots. Rebounding came mainly on the defensive end. Pitt was outrebounded on the defensive end 15-6 in the second half. Not too shocking since Cinci was 15-25 shooting in the second half (8-27 in the first half). Coupled with not missing many FTs. There weren’t many opportunities to get rebounds on defense.
Add in, that Pitt played a significant amount of zone in the second half because of foul issues, then you are also going to give up rebounds. Especially Steven Adams, who only played 10 minutes in the second half. In fact, when you look at the volume of missed shots and FTs in the first half, the first half rebounding really was inflated and masked the problems. Pitt was not strong in rebounding the entire game.
I would go so far as to say, that Pitt is probably average, maybe slightly above average on rebounds this year. The team wins with its offensive efficiency. Something that it had except for one glaring part of the game on Monday. Pitt went 0-10 on 3s. Nothing went from outside, despite shooting well inside the arc. In fact, far better than most opponents did against Cinci.
Opponents were making just 36.6 percent on 2-point shots [against Cinci], the lowest inside-the-arc figure of any defense in the country.
In other words, it was a bad day for Pitt to go 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. Actually, it is never a good time to go 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. The Panthers aren’t a bad 3-point shooting team — they make about 36 percent of their threes — but they don’t take many. Per the usual, Pitt’s strength lies on the interior, where the Bearcats are at their defensive best. So when the Panthers went 23-of-42 from 2, well, fine. You’ll take that. Assuming, of course, that you also don’t go 0-for-10 from 3. Yikes.
Like I said, frustrating.