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Pitt’s loss to Cincinnati highlights peril of weak schedules

Dec 17, 2013, 9:59 PM EDT

Pitt Cincy Getty Images

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.”

  1. Jackagain† - Dec 17, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    Dixon needs to give Newkirk more minutes and let him make some mistakes now in order to be ready for March. But he doesn’t operate like that….one TO and Newkirk was riding the pine the rest on the night while fat, and slow Robinson, Dixon’s favorite son, ran the PG position and did zip.

    Pitt will win 8-9 games in the ACC with Robinson at the PG and then crap the bed in March again….wash, rinse and repeat. Unless of course he gives the ball over to Newkirk, a guy who can run and create his own shot and let him learn early in the season.

  2. mgearmail - Dec 21, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    There’s no doubt that Pitt’s schedule has been weak, and that they don’t have a top-25 victory. Of course that goes for plenty of other teams with one or more loss that are still ranked in the Top 25. And then there’s the teams that, unlike Pitt, may very well never play a Top 25 team before the tournament (Wichita State, for example, although Memphis will probably still be ranked when they play). I’d argue that both (A) Pitt should try harder to schedule top opponents before league play starts, and (B) despite this fact, Pitt regularly receives substantially more criticism about things like this than other teams who do similar things (Syracuse, anybody?).

    Also, you reference KenPom with respect to Pitt’s schedule, but you don’t note that KenPom’s rankings, which take that schedule into account, have Pitt ranked in the top 20. They haven’t just beat most of the teams they’ve played: they’ve beat them by a lot. And the Cincinnati loss, as poorly as Pitt played compared to how they’ve played the rest of the year, was by one point.

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