We’re only a little over a week into the season, but we’ve already had one of the most impressive performances we’re going to see this season.
Long Beach State went into the Peterson Events Center — a building where Pitt is 86-1 against non-conference opponents — and knocked off the Panthers 86-76. It was more than simply winning, however. The 49ers thoroughly beat the Panthers. After taking the lead eight minutes into the game, LBSU never gave it back up. They opened up an 11-point lead late in the first half, and Pitt was never able to get closer than six the rest of the way.
Every time Pitt made a run, the 49ers had an answer. To be honest, it looked like Pitt was the mid-major on the road, fighting to get back into the game against a superior opponent. Like I said, everything about this performance was impressive.
There are two ways to look at this upset. On the one hand, the way that LBSU played shouldn’t have come to a surprise to you. Every media outlet in the country has written about the 49ers this offseason. We had them eighth in our mid-major top 25, which, in hindsight, was too low. Casper Ware, the 49ers’ star point guard who went for 28 points and six assists while committing just a single turnover, was a first-team mid-major all-american.
This is an experienced group that has been through the battles. Their rotation is essentially six players deep, and four of them are seniors, three of whom were on an all-Big West team last season. They’re long, they’re athletic, they can score in transition and they can shoot. That is a scary mix at the mid-major level.
What was surprising, however, was just how poorly Pitt played. The two staples of Panthers basketball since the Ben Howland days simply disappeared. Pitt looked terrible defensively, as LBSU got whatever shot they wanted. The Panthers’ press looked like it could have been broken by a decent high school team. Pitt wasn’t exactly expected to be an elite defensive team — they don’t force enough turnovers to be considered as such — but I don’t think anyone could have predicted this kind of performance.
The other area that the Panthers struggled was on the glass. The past few seasons, it could have been argued that Pitt’s best offense was a missed shot. That’s how good they have been on the offensive glass. Against LBSU, the Panthers managed just 11 offensive rebounds. No one on their roster grabbed more than six rebounds.
With this loss coming on the heels of Pitt’s struggles against Rider — a team that was drilled by Drexel two days later — it raises a serious question: just how good are the Panthers? Is this truly an elite team, one that can compete for the Big East title? As of this morning, that answer is no, at least not until they find a way to consistently defend well.
Whenever a mid-major team scores an upset like this early in the season, the questions of whether or not they can get an at-large bid will be asked. This win alone will not get the 49ers into the NCAA Tournament. But if they can manage to replicate this performance against one of their other quality non-conference opponents — they go to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina and play Xavier in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic, which also includes Kansas State and Clemson — while rolling through their league like they did last year (14-2, winning the regular season title by four games), earning an at-large berth is quite feasible.
But after the way they played against Pitt, the question may not end up being whether or not they should get in.
It could very well end up being what kind of seed do they get.