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Despite Ugly Loss, Pitt Still on Right Track, Right?



Pitt lost its tenth ACC game on Tuesday at Boston College, falling to 2-10 on the season in conference play, and in some ways it was the first game of the 2018-19 that brought some flashbacks of 2017-18 to the viewer.

As probably the person that saw more Pitt basketball in person last season than anyone not affiliated with the team, it certainly brought back some memories for me.

First of all, there was the nearly completely empty Conte Forum, as a two-win Boston College team facing a two-win Pitt in a snowstorm apparently did not rate highly as a viewing option for the Bostonian populace.

Secondly, it was a choppy, sloppy game throughout, with both teams struggling offensively and play stopped several times to clean blood and water from the leaking roof off the floor.

Of course, comparisons to 2017-18 are fairly ridiculous, right? This is a #ZooEra, with Jeff Capel and Pitt’s dynamic freshmen leading the team out of the doldrums.

That’s the prevailing sentiment, eight-game losing streak aside. But I wanted to put some data to that notion. Is Pitt ahead of where it was in 2017-18, and if the Panthers are, how far have they came?

Let’s look at some data to find out.


Of course, this is an easy starting point. Pitt is 12-13 after losing to Boston College, putting the Panthers right below .500. Through the first 25 games of the 2017-18 season, Pitt was 8-17. It’s not a perfect corollary because of varying schedules, but both teams had played Duke and North Carolina (the 2017-18 team had done so twice) and neither had played Virginia yet.

Even considering what appears to be a slightly more difficult schedule, Kevin Stallings’ final Pitt team was 0-5 against ranked opponents, while Jeff Capel’s first squad is 1-5. In fact, in just about every record-based calculation, the current squad is ahead of last season’s pace.


Of course, it’s 2019, the era of big data everything, and we’ve learned — at least most of us — that wins and losses aren’t a sure-fire way of determining what is good and what is bad.

After all, a team that wins three games by two points each and loses seven by 50 points each is probably worse than an 0-10 team that’s lost 10, one-point decisions.

But in the points percentage department, Pitt’s 2018-19 team looks even better than its predecessor.


The first red mark for the Panthers is two-point field goal percentage, where they’re slightly down from a year ago at 48 percent compared to 50 percent. It was a bit of a surprise to see 3-point field goal percentage dead level, considering the Panthers’ 10-for-37 showing from long range against Boston College and the departure of 3-point ace Parker Stewart.


Pitt’s defense has been its strong suit all season, and it’s not a shock to see that opponents’ shooting percentage has fallen three percent from a year ago. Pitt has been slightly more prone to fouling, with almost 10 percent more opposing free-throw attempts.


Rebounding has been the bane of Pitt’s existence for much of this season, but the Panthers have shown steady improvement over a year ago, even though it’s been mostly the same two post players gettin the majority of playing time in Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka.


With two freshman lead guards on both teams, turnovers figured to be an issue for Pitt, and they have been, but this year’s duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens seems to have done a better job of hanging onto the basketball, as well taking it away. It does seem like Marcus Carr and company were slightly more efficient distributors a year ago.

Again, the growth of Brown and Chukwuka can be seen in the increased block totals.


Yes, the team went 0-18 in ACC play, but the real reason that Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke had to fire Stallings was the fans voting with their feet by staying away from the Petersen Events Center and giving Pitt its lowest attendance average since 1982. This season, Capel and company have reversed that trend.

As Capel said after the game, Pitt still has “a long way to go” to get to where the Panthers want to be. But let’s not lose sight of how far they’ve come already.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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