The loss Monday against Duke at Petersen Events Center was disappointing for Pitt and its fans, because it was a big game -- and probably an even bigger event -- in front of a national television audience in prime time.
There is, of course, no shame in losing to Duke. The disappointment, though, goes beyond missing an opportunity to notch a win against one of the elite programs in the country led by a Hall of Fame coach.
Beating Duke would have given the Panthers a much-needed marquee win, which they still need to improve their NCAA tournament seeding. But because the ACC is down this year, there won't be many opportunities for a win against a top-25 RPI opponent -- or even a top-50 opponent.
Pitt has played only three teams currently in the top 50 -- Cincinnati (No. 23), Syracuse (No. 6) and Duke (No. 11) -- and has lost to all three.
Stanford, which Pitt beat earlier this season, is close at No. 51 and could move into the top 50 with a win tonight against Arizona (No. 1 in the polls, No. 2 in RPI). But Stanford is the only one of the Panthers' previous opponents with a realistic chance to move into the top 50 at this point.
Pitt will play only four more games against teams currently in the top 50. One of those is North Carolina at No. 50, but the Tar Heels have been so inconsistent, they could fall out by the time they play the Panthers Feb. 15.
Pitt's opponent Sunday, Virginia (15-5, 6-1 ACC), is No. 21, and the Panthers (18-3, 6-2) have a rematch with Syracuse Feb. 12 and plays No. 26 Florida State Feb. 23. Wins in all three games would upgrade the Panthers' tournament seed.
The Panthers said they didn't play their best game Monday, but were careful to attach too much importance to one loss and said they need to keep it in perspective.
"We wanted to win, we knew the hype was there, we had the crowd," forward Lamar Patterson said. "But the good thing is we have another game this week, so we will just go out and get back at it."
One thing that is clear is that the Panthers have to play better defense against the Cavaliers -- or anyone else they play -- than they did against the Blue Devils.
Coach Jamie Dixon discussed that topic at length after the Duke game and his frustration was palpable. The Blue Devils were 13 of 25 from 3-point range and had 20 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds. Duke also scored 13 points on out-of-bounds plays.
Forward Michael Young said the Panthers were prepared for what Duke ran, but their defense was poor because they didn't do a good job of executing their assignments.
"We had a lot of mental mistakes on defense," he said. "We had a lot of mental mistakes as far as things like switching or not switching, or some other simple things like hedging or not being there [when they drove], and then we gave up open shots. Too many open shots."
James Robinson added: "We just didn't execute on defense the whole second half. With us being able to score, we were able to keep it close for a while but we really just didn't play defense the whole second half. We just didn't get any stops."
Duke, though, is a tough team to defend. The Blue Devils are the highest-scoring team in the ACC -- and one of the best offensive teams in the country -- and have legitimate first-round NBA draft picks in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
."They have skilled players and they utilize them well," Patterson said. "They do a lot of one-on-one stuff, they just get the ball into their best players' hands and they go."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.