For the first 2 1/2 months of the season, Pitt's well-oiled offensive machine was on pace to be among the best offenses in the history of the program. The Panthers were Division I's most efficient offensive team and among the highest scoring.
Those days must seem like eons ago for the point-desperate Panthers, who have gone from powerful to punchless in the past few weeks.
The offense that once struck fear into the opposition has slowed to a crawl. The Panthers averaged 78.5 points per game through the first seven Big East Conference games. In the past seven games against conference competition, they have averaged 63 per game.
In the first seven games, the Panthers scored 72 points or more in every game and had 80 or more three times. In the past seven the highest total is 71 (twice) and they have been held below 60 three times, including twice in the past three games.
"We just haven't been hitting shots," sophomore guard Travon Woodall said. "It's been a stretch where we're playing a lot of games. We'll get back to what we're used to. But right now, we're not hitting shots. Coach has been emphasizing taking enough shots and getting our shots up. We have to get back to that."
There are some reasons for the big drop in scoring, most notably the absence of leading scorer Ashton Gibbs for three of those games. The Panthers also happened to play the Big East's worst defending teams early on in the conference schedule.
Five of the first seven opponents are currently ranked 11th or higher in the league in scoring defense. Of the past seven opponents, five are among the top seven in the conference in scoring defense.
But it should be noted that Gibbs did play in four of the past seven games, and in those games the Panthers scored 51, 65, 71 and 59, for three of the four lowest point totals in that stretch. Gibbs posted a career high 26 points in a 60-59 loss Saturday at St. John's while no other player scored more than seven points.
"It's not necessarily a concern," senior forward Gilbert Brown said. "We've just had some missed opportunities. That's just how the Big East is. We've been playing against these teams year after year. The scout is very detailed on each team. We know exactly what each team does as well as what they know about us. I think it makes for a tougher game. You really have to rely on your half-court offense and defense to win games."
Coach Jamie Dixon echoed Brown's sentiments. Opponents have seen each other play so often by now that they have a better idea of how to prevent the other team from scoring.
"Once you get into the league it always happens," Dixon said. "The aberrations are the ones that stay high scoring. It's familiarity. It's the level of play. In some regards, it's style of play. You're playing against better defenses.
"You're not going to score in transition. You're not going to score on the first pass. You're not going to get a shot on the first pass. That's what we've seen year after year. It's part of our conference. It's part of most conferences, but probably more so ours than others because our teams are so good defensively."
The Panthers have been slowed by matchup zone defenses the past two games. St. John's played matchup zone for the majority of the game Saturday and South Florida played zone for long portions of the game Feb. 16 at Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers shot well from the field in both games, but they had too many turnovers against St. John's.
"Coach has been stressing that," Woodall said. "We've been working on matchup zones in practice and getting used to different styles of defense and everyone being comfortable adjusting to playing against those different styles of defense."
NOTES -- Backup center Dante Taylor did not practice Tuesday. Taylor has been playing through tendinitis and a bone bruise in his left knee. His status for the West Virginia game Thursday night is up in the air. "We're really trying to rest him," Dixon said. "He's been in some pain for a while. He didn't feel good in the last game. It obviously has hampered him. We'll just see how he responds." ... Gibbs, who came off the bench against St. John's, will be back in his starting spot Thursday night. Woodall will go back to a reserve role after four consecutive starts.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.