Pitt had a chance to notch themselves their first noteworthy victory of the season as they hosted No. 17 Duke on Monday evening.
Instead, the No. 18 Panthers were run off the floor in the second half, losing 80-65 in a game where Quinn Cook, Duke’s starting point guard, was slowed with an ankle injury. Lamar Patterson, who had entered the game looking like he deserved to be in the conversation for the National Player of the Year award, finished with 14 points, many of which came when the outcome was all-but decided, on 4-for-14 shooting and had just a single assist to go along with five turnovers. He was completely shutdown by Duke’s Rodney Hood.
Losing to a streaking Duke team, one that has now won their last five games by an average of just under 20 points, is hardly a “bad loss”. But it’s not a promising one, either. When the Panthers lost at Syracuse earlier this month, they stormed back on the road, taking a late lead before Tyler Ennis did Tyler Ennis things in the final two minutes.
There was hope after that loss. Pitt looked like they deserved to be in the conversation for best team in the ACC. That’s what happens when you lose in the final minutes on the road against the undisputed ACC favorite.
There is no way to spin this loss as a positive.
The Panthers were simply outclassed on Monday night, and while 40 minute’s worth of poor basketball is a tough way to judge the true ability of a team, the bottom-line is the eye-test is all we have when it comes to judging Pitt. They have not beaten anyone this season. Their best win right now? Pick one: Stanford, Clemson, at N.C. State, at Maryland. None of those teams are heading to the NCAA tournament this season barring a major late-season turnaround.
We went over this on Saturday. Barring a collapse, the Panthers are likely headed to the NCAA tournament. But they only have three games left against top 50 RPI opponents, four if you include North Carolina, who is currently 51st. UNC is the only one of those four games that is on the road.
Let’s assume, for arguments sake, that they lose at home to Syracuse but win out the rest of their league games and get beat by Duke in the ACC tournament. Pitt would have a record somewhere in the neighborhood of 28-5 with an NCAA tournament resume that is befitting of a mid-major conference champion.
That’s a problem.
Pitt is going to enter February without a single win over an NCAA tournament-caliber team.
They get Virginia on Sunday. Will that be the day they finally breakthrough?