NEW YORK — Dear Pitt: This is why you put together a real non-conference schedule.
This is why you make sure that, more than a month and 11 games into the season, the best team on your schedule is someone better than Cincinnati.
Don’t get me wrong, the Bearcats aren’t a bad basketball team. They’re somewhere between respectable and a potential bubble team, not exactly a bad loss but not quite the kind of win that will define a tournament resume. There isn’t any shame in losing to the Bearcats. They’re tough and they’re physical and they make things tough for anyone trying to run offensive against them. And on the nights when teams shoot as poorly as Pitt did on Tuesday — 31.4% from the floor, 2-for-13 from three, one field goal in the last 14:54 of the game in the Jimmy V Classic opener — the Bearcats are good enough to beat a lot of teams.
That’s before you take into account in the familiarity factor. This is the first time in eight years that the Bearcats and the Panthers aren’t Big East foes. Mick Cronin and Jamie Dixon know each other. They know their sets. They know their defenses. They know how to beat each other.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Pitt’s 44-43 loss to Cincinnati is not necessarily a sign that the Panthers are destined for the NIT.
The problem is that there’s no way to tell otherwise. Because the rest of Pitt’s schedule is awful. The average KenPom rating of the 10 teams that Pitt has beaten? 183.9. The best team in that group? Stanford, who sits at 46th in those rankings, or Penn State, whois sitting at 72nd after losing at home to Princeton. In other words, it’s very possible that Pitt has yet to play an NCAA tournament team this season. The lasting impression that we’ll have of them heading into ACC play is of an ugly loss on national television to a middle-of-the-pack AAC team.
“Our coaches, they schedule who they think we should play,” Cameron Wright said. “We don’t question our character or our coach’s character. We know who we are.” According to Wright, the schedule that Pitt has played has nothing with the fact that the Panthers got pounded on the glass or were out-toughed on both ends of the floor. “This wasn’t the University of Pittsburgh basketball tonight.”
And he’s right.
This wasn’t Pitt basketball. The Panthers are probably better than what they showed tonight.
But they have done nothing this season that could prove the opposite.
“We played good people,” head coach Jamie Dixon said, “we just didnt get it done tonight.”