Cook: Pitt's play not worthy of NCAA tournament bid
February 19, 2013 10:00 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Notre Dame's Eric Atkins drives to the net against Pitt's Trey Zeigler.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This hideous 51-42 home loss to Notre Dame Monday night wasn't the most hurtful loss of the Jamie Dixon era at Pitt. That was the 78-76 loss at the buzzer to Villanova on Scottie Reynolds' length-of-the court drive, which denied Pitt a spot in the 2009 Final Four.
But this might have been the most inconsolable Dixon has been after a loss. He could barely speak for a long time after Pitt blew a 19-3 lead by playing some of the worst basketball since the Ralph Willard days.
"Sorry you had to see that," Dixon muttered to a friend as he left the court after his postgame radio show.
It was a shame another sellout crowd of 12,556 at the Petersen Events Center had to sit through it.
It was a shame a Big Monday national TV audience saw it on ESPN.
It's a real shame the NCAA tournament selection committee will remember it March 17 when it picks the tournament field.
Pitt still is in decent shape to make the NCAAs with a 20-7 record, 8-6 in the Big East Conference. It has quality wins on the road against Georgetown and Cincinnati and at home against Syracuse. It almost certainly will be in if it wins even two of its final four games before the Big East tournament. It plays South Florida (1-12) Feb. 27 at home and at DePaul (2-10) March 9, a team it beat by 38 points at home Jan. 26.
Shame on Pitt if it can't finish at least 10-8 in conference play.
But Pitt hardly looked like an NCAA tournament team, not just Monday night but in a 79-69 loss Saturday at Marquette. It is trending the wrong way at the worst time of the season. Next is a tough challenge against St. John's Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
"We've got to get it right," Dixon said. "It doesn't matter where we think we are [in the NCAA tournament field]. We've got to play better.
"We can't lose a home game like this."
Notre Dame beat Pitt almost beyond recognition in every way, but two incredible statistical areas stood out. Notre Dame started the game by shooting 1 for 19 to climb into that 16-point hole, but it ended up shooting a better percentage than Pitt for the game. That might be a first. Notre Dame made 17 of its 28 shots down the stretch. Pitt, during the same period, took bad shot after bad shot, making just 10 of 32.
Pitt was 0 for 8 from 3-point range for the game.
Lamar Patterson -- Pitt's best player -- made 1 of 5 shots and had two points.
This was Pitt's lowest point total of the season by 14 points. It tied for the second fewest of Dixon's time at Pitt. The lowest came in a 62-39 home loss to Rutgers last season, a loss that would have trumped this one in futility if that Pitt team hadn't been so awful and finished 5-13 in Big East play, ending Pitt's consecutive string of NCAA tournament bids at 10.
So much for that offensive efficiency that Dixon likes to brag about with this Pitt team.
"Even when we were up, I didn't feel like we were playing well offensively," he said. "I thought we were playing good defense, getting after it and causing turnovers. But we didn't play well offensively. That's not our team. That's not the way we play.
"Even when we were ahead, we never felt comfortable, I can tell you that."
That's because, as bad as Notre Dame was shooting, it still was outrebounding Pitt. That was the real killer for Pitt all night. Notre Dame had a 40-25 rebounding edge.
Dixon gets sick when Pitt gets outrebounded by 1. You might imagine how he felt when he saw that Pitt was minus-15 in rebounding.
"That's never happened to us. I can't remember that ever happening to us."
Actually, it was worse in that Rutgers loss last season. Pitt was outrebounded, 51-35. Not that it made Dixon feel much better Monday night.
"Those are unbelievable numbers," he said of the rebound totals. "It's just hard to believe."
It was hard for a lot of us to believe. Until the Marquette game, we had watched this Pitt team grow and improve the way Dixon's teams usually do. But, now, that 10-point home win Feb. 2 against Syracuse seems like years ago. And that 28-point win Jan. 8 at Georgetown 8 seems like a lifetime ago.
Pitt still will make the NCAA tournament.
That is the prediction here.
But if Pitt showed anything against Notre Dame, it is this: It is capable of blowing the bid.