And with Tuesday’s night loss to George Washington, Pitt’s 2014-2015 basketball season mercifully came to a close. It was their fifth straight loss to close out the season, which I’m sure isn’t sitting well with coaches or players.
While the Panthers won more than they lost, their 19-13 regular season record combined with an 8-10 conference record wasn’t enough to get them to the NCAA’s. Pitt promptly pulled one-and-done’s in the ACC Tournament and NIT, in both cases playing listless and uninspired.
Three major flaws
For Pitt, this season was flawed from the start. There were three major issues with Pitt’s roster that became more and more apparent as the season progressed.
- Lack of inside presence
Pitt didn’t have a strong, physical presence along their front-line, especially on defense. Pitt struggled to control the glass, and penetrating guards got easy access to the rim. It’s no wonder most opponents shot 50% or better against the Panthers.
- Slow guard play
If you don’t have size, then you better have speed. Unfortunately, Pitt had neither. Slow guard play allowed opposing guards to penetrate at will. When Pitt’s backcourt sagged to prevent the drive, opponents took advantage of easy, open 3-point looks.
- Lack of leadership
Last year, Lamar Patterson took control of the team to lead them to the tourney. This year, no one stepped up. When things started to go south at the end of this season, there wasn’t anyone to stop them from spiraling out of control.
It also didn’t help that projected starting small forward Durand Johnson was suspended for the year on opening day. I’m not saying it would have made Pitt a title contender, but his presence may have led to at least a few more wins and a possible trip to the NCAAs. He brought scoring and an energy to the team that was sorely needed.
The season in review
It was clear early in the season that Pitt would struggle. After starting strong against Niagra, Pitt scraped by Samford. Then they lost to Hawaii in what was supposed to be a warm-up game before the Maui Invitational. When they got smoked by SDSU in the tournament, I knew it was going to be a long year.
On their return from Maui, they got run out of the gym by a mediocre Indiana team. They followed that loss with a six game winning streak, but they were all against lower level programs. In a couple of games, they were lucky to escape with wins. Close calls against St. Bonaventure and Oakland reinforced reasons for concern. At that point, I figured an NIT appearance would make for a great season.
Pitt started slow in conference play, and their season was on the ropes heading into a six game stretch against Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina, Virgina and Syracuse. Pitt entered this stretch on a three game losing streak and was 3-5 in conference play at the time. No one would have been surprised had Pitt dropped all six games. Amazingly, Pitt would finish the stretch 4-2, beating Syracuse twice along with North Carolina and Notre Dame. Pitt was 7-7 in conference play, had four winnable games remaining, and had played themselves into the discussion for an at large bid. Winning all four would surely land them in the tourney.
Pitt started the stretch run by beating Boston College, keeping their NCAA hopes alive. Then the wheels came off. Pitt fell apart down the stretch at Wake Forest, blowing a seven point lead over the last five minutes. They never recovered from the loss, and played poorly in losses to Miami and Florida State to close out the season. The hangover continued through the ACC and NIT.
While I would have been happy with an NIT bid in December, it was a letdown in March. Pitt’ controlled their destiny. Three wins, and they would have punched their ticket. Instead, they let it slip away. It was very disappointing.
The bigger issue is where Pitt basketball will go from here. In my season wrap-up last year, after Pitt had made a strong showing in the NCAA, I wrote:
Regardless, the freshman on the team showed a lot of promise, so the future continues to look bright for Pitt basketball. As always, it will be a long wait, but I’m looking forward to the beginning of another season in November. We can only hope that it will have less heartbreak, disappointment, and bad luck than this past one.
Looking towards next year, I don’t have the same optimism. It’s not apparent that the flaws on the team will be addressed for next year’s edition. It also not clear that the current players have the heart, desire and attitude that it takes to win. I hope I’m wrong.
In any case, I’ll still look forward to the start of another Pitt basketball season in November. It’s college basketball, and you never know what could happen. However, I expect this year’s wait will feel a lot shorter than last year’s.