Pitt’s 15-point loss to Duke last week exposed some serious shortcomings and considerably dampened what had been overinflated postseason hopes. All of that could get worse today.
Virginia -- not a member of the old-time ACC aristocracy but a worthy opponent -- shows up this afternoon at the Petersen Event Center for a 12:30 game and another Pitt loss is hardly out of the question. The Cavaliers are surprisingly good. They’re 7-1 in conference play and 16-5 overall.
In contrast to Pitt’s drubbing by Duke at home, the Cavaliers went into Cameron Indoor Stadium last month and almost came out a winner. They led by one with 19 seconds remaining before losing. Their seven league wins have been by an average of 18 points. Most recently, they won by 15 at Notre Dame.
They come in unranked and without a distinguished pedigree, but there is no chance of Pitt overlooking them. Coach Jamie Dixon won’t allow that to happen. But being ready and being able to win are not the same thing. Nothing much has changed as far as serious Pitt shortcomings are concerned.
For starters, Pitt has not been able to find anything approaching a worthy successor to sixth man Durand Johnson, who was lost for the season with a knee injury against Wake Forest on Jan. 11. After leading scorer Lamar Patterson, Johnson was Pitt’s top 3-point shooter. Pitt has not been able to replace the scoring touch Johnson brought off the bench or even been able to adequately fill his minutes.
The Pitt bench consists of two true freshmen, guard Josh Newkirk and forward Jamel Artis, redshirt freshman Chris Jones, a swingman, and inside reserve Josh Randall, a transfer from Rutgers where he was barely getting double-digit minutes last season. Against Duke, these four combined for only 36 minutes and 12 points.
By comparison, Duke got 63 minutes and 29 points from its bench -- most notably 20 from Andre Dawkins, whose performance was the deciding factor in the game. Pitt has no one who can come close to filling such a role.
Jones, who moved into the rotation when Johnson was hurt, has barely contributed. He has scored only nine points in the five games since Johnson went down. Newkirk, another player who was expected to get some of Johnson’s minutes, scored 10 in the rout over Clemson but only four in the other four games.
The points will not come easy against the Cavaliers. In conference games, they are second in points allowed, 55; first in field-goal defense, .380; and second in 3-point defense, .308.
The competition takes a lighter turn for two games after today. The Panthers play Miami (2-6 in league play) Wednesday and Virginia Tech (1-8) Saturday. Then it gets considerably more difficult -- a Feb. 12 matchup against No. 2 Syracuse (8-0).