Pitt played about seven minutes of championship-caliber basketball on Saturday, battling No. 15 North Carolina to a 12-12 tie through the 12-minute mark of the first half.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, college basketball is played in 40-minute increments.
It was clear watching the game that Pitt just doesn’t quite have enough talent to compete with the big boys of the ACC. They could have played a bit better, and kept the game a bit closer, but in order to play with a team like North Carolina, with multiple talented post players, Pitt is going to have to get bigger.
Pitt’s three freshmen have been dynamic, but they’re 6-foot-6, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-2. Pitt is also going to need players with ACC athleticism that are able to match up against taller opponents.
In that regard, Sunday’s recruiting losses of Kofi Cockburn and Chase Johnson hurt far more than Saturday’s 25-point loss to the Tar Heels.
But there was more than just Pitt’s talent level that stood out about the loss and the margin of the loss. Pitt didn’t play one of its better games on Saturday and showed plenty of flaws that not only were the Tar Heels able to take advantage of, but they could open some eyes around the league.
Let’s take a look at some of what held Pitt back from being more competitive against Carolina.
NO OUTSIDE SHOOTERS
Senior wing Jared Wilson-Frame has been Pitt’s most prolific 3-point shooter this season, but when Pitt needed him the most, he was unable to come through on Saturday.
He’d shot 40.8 percent from beyond the arc coming into ACC play, but hit just 1 of 8 against the Tar Heels.
Pitt’s offense is going to be built on the three athletic freshman guards getting to the hoop, but they will need some outside shooting to keep defenses honest. Wilson-Frame has always been a streaky player, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to bounce back, but the injury to Sidy N’Dir has left Pitt without a reliable second option when Wilson-Frame isn’t gettin them to fall.
Xavier Johnson is shooting 40 percent, but has attempted just over three 3-pointers per game. Perhaps Pitt’s lead guard could do a little more outside shooting.
TROUBLE WITH THE ZONE
Pitt’s problems with outside shooting were exacerbated when North Carolina went to a passive 2-3 zone. With all five players at 6-foot-5 or taller, Pitt’s dribble-drive scheme was met with frequent stuffs and resulted in 33-percent shooting on layups.
What Pitt lacked was someone with the size and passing ability to stand in the middle of the zone and make plays. The Panthers also weren’t able to convert on kick outs from drives, mostly because of their inability to make shots from the outside.
NO POST PRESENCE
Pitt also didn’t get much of any scoring from big men Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka, and while that’s not exactly a new issue, it was a big one against a North Carolina team that likes to play two big men.
Pitt has played small all season, with one forward and four guards being almost the rule when it comes to the floor composition. That’s going to make it a tough matchup most nights for Pitt’s two forwards — who are still undersized compared to the typical ACC center.
Capel doesn’t have a lot of options here. Putting both bigs on the floor together would take one of Pitt’s better scorers off the floor. Maybe Au’Diese Toney could get a look at the five spot with Malik Ellison at four and Jared Wilson-Frame at three. That’s an extremely small lineup, but is probably Pitt’s best collection of talent.
One of the things that the Pitt players and coaches said that happened after the seven-minute mark was that the Panthers got a bit tired.
“The biggest things for our team is that we can’t take breaks and we can’t have mental lapses,” junior wing and team captain Ellison said. “We definitely got fatigued, just from being hyped up before the game and from the beginning of the game. It’s a new experience for a lot of players on this team, playing in front of that crowd and such a big game like we did. We’ve just got to find a different way to … keep our team to gather when times get rough.”
Pitt used just eight players. Johnson played 34 minutes and Trey McGowens played 33. Brown, Khameron Davis, Ellison, Toney and Wilson-Frame were all in the 20’s. As Ellison alluded to, it could have been a matter of emotional and mental energy more than physical energy, but Pitt needs to find a way to keep those eight going, as they don’t have much depth behind them.