The last month’s schedule has not been very kind for Pittsburgh who have actually lost five of their last nine games. Yesterday’s loss at North Carolina was yet another example of that. Their losses have all been to teams in the top four of the ACC including Syracuse twice. And both losses to Syracuse have been absolute heartbreakers. Down the stretch the Panthers have five games remaining and all of them are against teams that aren’t in the top five. With exception of the 15 point loss to Duke at home, all of the other losses for Pittsburgh have been by five points or less. Before the first loss to Syracuse, Pittsburgh lost Duran Johnson to a season-ending knee injury and that loss is something that has clearly been noticed on the floor for the Panthers.
Their loss to North Carolina gave UNC the fourth spot in the ACC standings that Pittsburgh barely held on to before the game began. If Pittsburgh would have been able to get the win yesterday, it would have expedited the healing process from the toughest loss of the season, the Tyler Ennis buzzer beater this past Wednesday against Cuse. But losing to North Carolina is just another tough pill for Pittsburgh to swallow who will need to to win their remaining games against some of the more beatable teams in the conference.
Here’s how they are going to do just that. They have senior Lamar Patterson who is still one of the best players in the conference. He hasn’t been the problem in their losses, but he also hasn’t played his best basketball. But most of that comes from being guarded by CJ Fair, Jabari Parker, Joe Harris, and every other teams best defender. Pitt needs to find smarter and more creative ways to get him the basketball with some open space so that he can go to work one on one. He averages 17 points per game and shoots the ball at 45.6 percent and can score from anywhere on the floor.
Another reason that Pittsburgh is going to get back on track is the heart of senior Talib Zanna. Zanna plays as hard as anyone else in the conference and is one of the best big men in the ACC. He’ll probably be on one of the two All-Conference teams in the ACC. He averages 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and has recorded seven double-doubles on the season and there have been four games where he was one rebound shy of a double-double.
Those two seniors will play a critical role in the success of Pittsburgh throughout the remainder of the season, but other players will have to step up for the Panthers. Junior guard Cameron Wright, who averages 10.7 points per game needs to become a bigger part of their offense. He has scored under that double-digit average in all five of their ACC losses. He shoots the ball at 47 percent but he doesn’t get many shots up in games. If the Panthers can get him going it could take some of the load off of Lamar Patterson.Sophomore guard James Robinson has also stepped up in some games especially his 16 in the double-overtime win against Virginia Tech.
If the season were to end today Pittsburgh would be the five seed in the ACC tournament and would be in the NCAA tournament probably as a 9 seed. They can gain ground if they win their remaining regular season games, which they should. They have a good enough team to make noise in the NCAA tournament and could win the ACC tournament as well. Remember that all of their losses could have been wins if one or two things went different.