Ron Cook: Pitt's record looks nice, but much tougher tests await
February 1, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt's Sterling Smith and James Robinson cheer as Ryan Seelye makes a basket late in the game against Virginia Tech Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The record is nice. It’s Feb. 1 and Pitt is 17-4 overall, its 6-3 record in the ACC tied for third best in the league. But there’s only so much you can take from the 90-71 blowout win Sunday night against Virginia Tech, one of the lesser teams in the conference, the kind of team Pitt has been beating most of the season. The problem is Pitt still hasn’t beaten a good opponent. It’s still hard to say how good it is. It’s still difficult to see it as an NCAA tournament team.
We’ll know more in two weeks after Pitt plays Virginia at home and Miami and North Carolina on the road.
Pitt has a chance to prove its worth against three ranked opponents, including North Carolina, which should remain No. 2 today when the latest Associated Press poll is released.
Based on how Pitt did when it stepped up in class against Purdue and Louisville, are you expecting a win in any of the three games?
We have to see so much more, right?
“We’ve got the ability to do it. We just have to find the way,” coach Jamie Dixon said, acknowledging that, in some ways, especially when he looks at his team’s defensive and rebounding statistics, it is “amazing” Pitt is 6-3.
“We’ve got to get better. We don’t feel like we’ve done the things we can do.”
That isn’t to say there weren’t a few encouraging signs against Virginia Tech. Pitt started fast. After falling behind by double-digits in the first half against Clemson, Florida State and N.C. State, it led by nine points at halftime. After being outrebounded in the three games, it had a 34-32 edge against Virginia Tech. After shooting less than 40 percent in the three games, it shot 52.9 percent, including 59.3 percent in the first half when it took control of the game. Defensively, it forced 20 turnovers, which led to 33 points.
Pitt built that halftime lead despite getting no points and no rebounds from Michael Young, who provided their only offense in a loss Wednesday night at Clemson. He missed nearly 9 minutes after bleeding from some sort of facial injury. He had 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half.
It’s a good thing for Pitt that Sheldon Jeter picked up the first-half slack. He scored nine consecutive Pitt points and 13 of 15 at one point. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds. It was Jeter’s first start of the season.
“That was a good decision,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said.
Dixon wouldn’t confirm that Jeter will start against Virginia in place of Rafael Maia, who was bothered Sunday night by a groin problem.
But, really, does Dixon have a choice but to start Jeter?
Williams went on to speak glowingly of Pitt’s offense, calling its 30 assists on 36 baskets “incredible.” Pitt point guard James Robinson, who struggled in the previous three games, had 11 assists and no turnovers. Pitt had just nine turnovers as a team.
“I thought they were really good,” Williams said. “They shredded us in every way.”
Pitt should beat Virginia Tech with ease. Virginia Tech has lost four games in a row, although it somehow beat Virginia on Jan. 4. It is one of the worst defensive and rebounding teams in the ACC. For the most part, Pitt has beaten the teams it is supposed to beat. It also has wins against Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Syracuse without Jim Boeheim. Its best win was at Notre Dame. Its one bad loss was a blowout at home against N.C. State — just 2-7 in the conference — although N.C. State’s talent is better than its record. The next time you feel like criticizing Dixon, think about what they are dealing with in Raleigh, N.C., this season with Mark Gottfried.
Dixon wasn’t about to apologize for this latest win.
“There aren’t too many 19-point wins in the ACC.”
But Dixon knows the harsh truth better than anyone. That’s why he kept saying the same thing after the game.
“We’ve got to get better.”
There is no better time than the Virginia game. Pitt needs to beat a good team. The sooner, the better.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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