Three reasons Pitt basketball has faded recently |

Three reasons Pitt basketball has faded recently

Jerry DiPaola
Louisville’s Steven Enoch shoots over Pitt’s Kene Chukwuka (15) during the first half Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

Not long ago, Pitt had a 16-point lead on Louisville with 14 minutes, 37 seconds left in the second half. The Panthers survived in overtime 89-86 because they don’t know how to stop fighting.

In the subsequent four games and the 19:37 left against Louisville, Pitt was outscored by 32 points. And that stretch includes a 75-62 victory against Florida State, which was No. 11 at the time but since has dropped out of the Associated Press rankings.

And now Pitt must face a Louisville team that was unranked then but is No. 23 in the nation now.

What’s going on with this Pitt team that generated so much hope only two weeks ago but now has lost three of four?

Nothing wrong with hope, but it must be tempered with reality. Here are three reasons why prosperity has ended, perhaps temporarily.

1. The ACC

Louisville will be the Panthers’ fifth ranked opponent in the past seven games and their sixth of the season. And we’re not talking teams barely getting enough votes to reach the Top 25.

The first five of those opponents were among the top 15. Louisville is on the rise and could crack the top 20 by beating the Panthers.

Pitt has so much ground to cover after an 0-19 season a year ago that it might take the Panthers another few weeks to find firmer footing.

2. Failure to get to the foul line

Pitt scored more than half its points from the foul line in the Florida State game (38 of 75). Duke and Syracuse were smarter. They sent Pitt to the line for a two-game total of only 34 shots. Pitt made more free throws against the Seminoles than it attempted over its two most recent losses.

Coach Jeff Capel has been around college basketball gymnasiums long enough to know how to reverse that trend.

“He eats, sleeps and breathes basketball,” reserve guard Sidy N’Dir said.

The Panthers are third in the ACC in successful free throws (an average of 18.7 per game). If they can’t hit their 3-point attempts, they need to score them one at a time more often.

Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Jared Wilson-Frame, who play the most minutes per game, average a combined 80.9 percent from the foul line.

Found money. Grab it.

3. Slippage on the defensive end

Pitt has kept only Florida State out of the 70s in conference play. North Carolina, Louisville, N.C. State, Syracuse and Duke averaged 82 points.

Pitt doesn’t shoot well enough from the 3-point line (33.2 percent) to counter such a barrage from opponents.

“Even though you miss shots, you always have defense to get back in it,” N’Dir said. “We have to focus on the next play. Defense wins games.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.