Pitt had immense trouble finding the basket in its disappointing loss at Virginia Tech Wednesday, something the Panthers look to improve Saturday against the Yellow Jackets.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Pitt’s loss to Virginia Tech Wednesday didn’t push the Panthers out of the NCAA tournament discussion or put them closer to the bubble, but in some ways the setback negated the good that came from the Panthers’ home win against Duke.
Pitt dropped about 10 spots in the RPI (the Panthers are No. 48 in CBS Sports, No. 47 in ESPN and No. 42 in NCAA) but are still in good shape for an NCAA berth, although they are much closer to the danger zone now than they were after beating the Blue Devils.
The Panthers (20-9, 9-8 ACC) close the regular season Saturday at Georgia Tech before playing next week in the ACC tournament in Washington. While most of the national bracketologists who study RPI and try to predict the tournament field agree Pitt is in safe territory, they also agree the Panthers shouldn’t tempt fate by losing to the Yellow Jackets (17-13, 7-10) and losing in the first round of the conference tournament.
That’s because of Pitt’s weak non-conference schedule (ranked No. 176), lack of big wins (1-6 versus Top 25 in the RPI) and surprisingly pedestrian record against the Top 150 in the RPI (11-9).
The immediate consequence for the Panthers is the Virginia Tech loss cost them an opportunity for a double bye in the ACC tournament. Pitt had to win its final two games and hope Notre Dame and Duke lost at least once in the final week. If that had happened the Panthers would have been the fourth seed in the ACC tournament. Now Pitt can finish no higher than the fifth seed and are locked into playing their first conference tournament game next Wednesday with only a first-round bye.
If Notre Dame beats N.C. State on Saturday, the Panthers will be the sixth seed if they beat Georgia Tech. Pitt can actually fall to the 10th seed with a loss to the Yellow Jackets, depending on what happens with the other teams bunched in the middle of the conference standings.
The Panthers will have to play much better Saturday than they did Wednesday against the Hokies. Pitt shot less than 40 percent from the field (38.9 percent) and was just 3 of 21 on 3-point shots (14.3 percent), a big reason the Panthers lost despite outrebounding the Hokies.
The Panthers also fouled too much. Virginia Tech went to the free-throw line 35 times and foul trouble forced them to use a zone defense for much of the game.
Coach Jamie Dixon was frustrated with the Panthers’ inability to make shots, but he said he didn’t think they ran the offense poorly or took bad shots. He said the larger story was the foul trouble.
“I thought we had good shots early, but we didn’t knock them down,” he said. “Our offense wasn’t as good in the second half. We had opportunities, but couldn’t get it done. We have to be able to get better production out of some of our guys.
“There was a stretch in the first half that we were open, but didn’t make them. We wanted to continue to go inside, and I think we could’ve done a better job of that. But I don’t think we took bad shots, especially in the first half. We just can’t go 3 [for] 21 and let them shoot 44 percent.”
Pitt beat Georgia Tech, 89-84, at Petersen Events Center in January. That was one of the Panthers’ best offensive games of the season. They shot 49 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point territory.
But as they found out Wednesday against Virginia Tech, which the Panthers beat, 90-71, in January, the season’s first meeting isn’t really relevant, especially when the second game is on the other team’s home court.
James Robinson, who was one of two Panthers to score in double figures Wednesday, said he and his teammates have been good at bouncing back all season and he is sure they will be ready Saturday.
“We have to get back to the grind,” he said. “We need to get back to doing the things we know that we are capable of doing — rebounding and defending at a high level. And our offense will come based on how we are doing on defense. That’s always how it is.
“We have a quick turnaround. We had a tough loss, but we have to get ready for Georgia Tech because we beat them earlier in the year, and we know they are going to come out hungry.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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