Bob Smizik: What's happened to Pitt?

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Any hope that the Pitt basketball season would surge upward with what could be described as a soft schedule at the end of its first ACC season was dashed Sunday night at, of all places, the once-friendly confines of the Petersen Events Center.

Pitt (20-7, 8-6) losing at home to Florida State -- which it did, 71-66 -- borders on inexplicable. This was the kind of game Pitt almost always won. The Seminoles were 15-10 overall and 6-8 in the ACC. How does a Pitt team that played Syracuse so tough twice, that almost beat Cincinnati, that almost beat Virginia, lose -- at home -- to Florida State?

It happens and it shows that the real snapshot of this Pitt team might be those ugly overtime wins this month over Miami and Virginia Tech -- both ACC bottomfeeders.

Not that anyone had a right to believe Pitt could do much of anything in the NCAA tournament, but this loss opens the discussion as to whether it will even get to enter the tournament. As matters stand now, Pitt will get an invitation. But with a seeding somewhere lower than sixth, a first-round loss is hardly out of the question.

There’s little to be gained from upcoming games at Boston College (Wednesday) and Notre Dame (Saturday). BC is 3-11 in ACC play and Notre Dame is 5-10. But BC won at Syracuse last week so all things are possible.

Two things stood out about the loss to Florida State:

* The astonishing number of empty seats at the end of the game. Someone who didn’t know the score would have figured that this was a game where one team led by 25 instead of one that was in doubt until the final minute. Worse, according to published reports, adults had to be moved from the second level of the facility to the lower bowl to fill in empty student seats. Granted, the TV-mandated 6 p.m. starting time was detrimental to the turnout, but considering the long run of success Pitt has had, the vacant seats -- early and late -- were surprising and disappointing.

* It looked like Lamar Patterson was about to turn in another disappointing performance. The game was 37 minutes old and he had six points. The one-time go-to guy -- a candidate for ACC Player of the Year -- was performing a disappearing act. Then -- Shazam! -- he had 16 points in the final 2:55. This was the Patterson we had seen earlier in the season.

Is he too constricted by Pitt’s system? Is he too much a team guy to free-lance? Could be. Patterson needs to play with the same kind of abandon the rest of the season that he did in the final three minutes against FSU.

Pitt still has a chance to salvage some degree of glory out of this season. After Boston College and Notre Dame it plays North Carolina State (at the dreaded Petersen Events Center) on March 3 and at Clemson on March 8. NC State is 7-7 in league play and Clemson 8-6.

A season that once looked oh so sweet had been altered dramatically by five losses in the past seven games dating back to Duke on Jan. 27. All of a sudden Pitt is playing for seeding in the ACC tournament and for an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

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