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Ranking Pitt Basketball’s Worst Losses in Recent History

Ranking Pitt Basketball’s Worst Losses in Recent History

Pitt lost its 2020-21 season opener Wednesday night in “disappointing” fashion, to quote head Jeff Capel, an 80-70 loss to St. Francis that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

Disappointing was probably an understatement. The Panthers entered as 15-point favorites, the Red Flash were picked to finish sixth in the Northeast Conference this season — and second among St. Francises, behind St. Francis College in Brooklyn, and KenPom.com rated St. Francis as the No. 210 team in the country and the second-worst on Pitt’s entire 2020-21 schedule.

So, yes, that was a very, very, bad loss. But unfortunately, bad losses have become something of a regular occurrence at the Petersen Events Center and around the Pitt basketball program as of late.

So where does Pitt’s latest loss to a team it should probably have dominated rank in the pantheon? Let’s take a look.

Are you sure you want to do this?

It might be painful.

There are highlights.

OK, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

We’ll limit our search for lack-of-greatness to the Petersen Events Center era. Without further ado, here are the worst losses in recent Pitt history.

No. 10: Pitt 78, Montana 83 (OT), Nov. 13, 2017

This really doesn’t belong here, even though the Grizzlies populate the lowly Big Sky Conference. KenPom had Pitt as just 18 slots better at the time and the Panthers were just three-point favorites at home.

But losing to Montana on top of the loss to Navy three days prior really sank all hopes of the 2017-18 season being salvageable and began the cranking up of the heat under the seat of Kevin Stallings that ended with him being fired after just two seasons at the helm.

Shamiel Stevenson missed a free-throw with 49 seconds left in overtime, then Ryan Luther missed a jumper with 27 seconds left and Pitt had to foul. Montana made them, Parker Stewart missed a 3-pointer and Montana made two more to seal the game.

Hindsight: Montana lost seven games all regular season, won the Big Sky and gave a fair showing against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.
KenPom disparity: 153-125 = 18
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 9: Pitt 76, Long Beach State 86, Nov. 16, 2011

“We got beat every which way,” Pitt head coach said Jamie Dixon said after the loss.

Pitt led a few times in the first half, but never by more than two scores and never after the 8-minute mark of the first half. Long Beach stretched the lead to nine at the half and never looked back.

Long Beach came in with a reputation for being a run-and-gun squad and they did just that, outscoring Pitt 25-5 in fast-break points. Guard Casper Ware piled up 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting.

The loss was the first non-conference loss at the Pete for Pitt in November or December and first at any point in six years. It was the first sign of trouble for the Panthers in a season that saw their NCAA Tournament streak snapped.

But Pitt went on to notch important non-conference wins at Tennessee and against Oklahoma State and seemed to find stable footing as the end of the year neared.

Hindsight: Long Beach was a good bit better than most of the teams listed here. The 49ers went on to make the NCAA Tournament as a 12-seed.
KenPom disparity: 78-11 = 67
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 8: Pitt 62, Navy 70, Nov. 10, 2017

Kevin Stallings said after this game that he was foolish to schedule a road season opener with such an inexperienced team. Pitt fans would later heartily agree with his self-assessment, in more ways than just who was scheduled on Nov. 10.

This one is pretty easy to sum up. After playing things pretty tight the first 20 minutes, Pitt scored one point in the first 10 minutes of the second half. One. Navy jumped out to a 15-point lead and the game was over.

Pitt shot 8 of 28 from 3-point range, including an 0-for-5 debut from sharpshooter Parker Stewart. The Panthers were also out-rebounded, 39-30, with the Mid’s top rebounder being 6-foot-4 swingman Shawn Anderson from New Castle, Pa.

Hindsight: Navy lost to Miami two days later by 34.
KenPom disparity: 163-121 = 42
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 7: Pitt 54, Wagner 59, Dec. 23, 2011

Pitt’s game with Wagner fit a tough little niche in the Panthers’ schedule. It came at the very end of the non-conference slate, two days before Christmas, and also seven days before their Big East opener with Notre Dame scheduled for Dec. 27.

Pitt started sluggish and trailed at the half, but cut the lead to four points late in the game, only to turn the ball over on three straight possessions. The Panthers turned the ball over 18 times in the game and shot a brutal 2 of 15 from 3-point range.

The loss to Wagner came just a few weeks after the loss to Long Beach State and really solidified the changing tide for the Panthers. The loss was the start of an eight-game losing streak for Pitt.

Hindsight: Wagner, coached by Dan Hurley with Bobby Hurley beside him, won a lot of games, finishing 25-6 and 15-3 in the NEC, before losing to Robert Morris in the semifinals.
KenPom disparity: 93-32 = 61
Emotion level: Low

No. 6: Pitt 66, Bucknell 69, Jan. 2, 2005

It seems so often that these bad losses come at inflection points in the schedule.

Pitt had wrapped an unbeaten first half with a win over Richmond on Dec. 23, then took a six-day Christmas break before coming back to a one-off non-conference home game against South Carolina, which the Panthers won on Dec. 29.

Big East play started on Jan. 5. Tucked in between was the non-conference finale against little old Bucknell on Jan. 3.

The Bison were overlooked right up until they shot 59% from the floor and 4 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half as they boat-raced a sluggish panthers squad to a 42-33 lead at the break.

Carl Krauser put the team on his back and fired up 20 points and Chris Taft added 19, but they also combined for nine of Pitt’s 18 turnovers, which Bucknell turned int 23 points, all of which came in the first half.

Krauser made a jumper to put Pitt ahead by one with 1:24 to play, but an Antonio Graves foul sent Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt to the line with 23 seconds left and he hit both. Graves missed Pitt’s last chance at a winner with three seconds left.

The loss was the first for a non-conference home game at the Pete and may have carried into a loss to a not-particularly-good Georgetown team three days later.

Hindsight: Bucknell had a middling Patriot League season but got hot at the end, running through the tournament and into the Big Dance, where they knocked off Kansas as a 14-seed before losing to Wisconsin.
KenPom disparity: 176-18 = 158
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 5: Pitt 70, Niagara 71, Dec. 3, 2018

Pitt was strolling along through Jeff Capel’s inaugural season. The Panthers had racked up six straight wins, including a nice neutral-site win over Saint Louis, before stumbling somewhat in a one-point loss at Iowa. A City Game victory over Duquesne righted things and the Panthers had only a home date with lowly Niagara before a scheduled trip to Morgantown to face West Virginia.

This was clearly a game the Pitt players overlooked, and the Purple Eagles came to play. Pitt trailed by one at the half before a mid-second-half run sent Niagara to a six-point lead. The Panthers kept fighting and a Jared Wilson-Frame 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds to play closed the gap to one point, but Xavier Johnson missed a layup and Trey McGowens couldn’t get a buzzer-beating tip-back attempt to fall.

The loss was made easier to swallow as the season went on, but not in a positive way. After a loss to West Virginia and a 2-2 start to ACC play, Pitt went on a 13-game losing streak that made people forget all about this one.

Hindsight: The best team that Niagara beat all season other than Pitt was Iona. They finished tied for last in the MAAC.
KenPom disparity: 270-104 = 166
Emotion level: Low

No. 4: Pitt 70, St. Francis 80, Nov. 25, 2020

The recency bias is strong with this one, but this was truly a horrible loss. St. Francis was one of the top teams in the NEC in 2020-21, but lost a pair of key contributors and still ran through the Panthers like a hot knife through butter. To twist that knife, this was Pitt’s first loss in 30 tries against St. Francis and only the second to a member of the NEC.

The 10-point final score is misleading, as the Panthers spent almost the entire game trailing by more than that. Pitt led for just 33 seconds of the game and was beaten like a drum from tip to gun by the Flash.

There’s something to be said for getting a bad one out of the way quickly, but it’s tougher to find an easier way to take all of the wind out of the sails of a program than to lose the season opener to a team they should have dominated. It’s a good thing the stands are mandated to be empty this season, or they would be anyway come Saturday against Drexel.

Hindsight: N/A
KenPom disparity: 237-84 = 153
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 3: Pitt 70, Hawaii 74, Nov. 21, 2014

Headed to Maui for the big pre-season tournament, the Panthers stopped at Hawai’i for a road game against the Warriors.

Big mistake.

In the loss to Hawai’i, Pitt played extremely poor defense for a Jamie Dixon-led squad, letting Hawai’i shoot 57% from the floor in the first half and 53% on the evening. Dixon was so upset by his team’s defensive performance that he played zone at times.

Still, Pitt led with 7:56 to play before four straight misses powered a 7-2 Rainbow Warriors run that gave them the lead for good.

Much of the talk in the immediate aftermath of the game was the impact of the suspension of Durand Johnson, who it was announced would be suspended a few days before the game. He never played for Pitt again. This loss and the loss of Johnson stopped a lot of the momentum Pitt had entering the season.

Hindsight: Hawai’i is a tough out at home, beating Nebraska and Colorado later that season and taking Wichita State to overtime.
KenPom disparity: 234-29 = 205
Emotion level: Moderate

No. 2: Pitt 55, Duquesne 64, Dec. 2, 2016

There are bad losses, then there are bad losses to rivals, then there are bad losses to rivals in the midst of a season so bad they fire their coach.

That’s what we have here as the Kevin Stallings-led Panthers waltzed into PPG Paints Arena and laid a giant egg in the City Game.

Point guard Jamel Artis (yes, that was really a thing) was suspended for the game, with freshman Justice Kithcart picking up 15 minus and the battle with the Dukes was the first sign that the Top-150 recruit might not pan out. Stepping up against Duquesne, he finished with two points.

Cameron Johnson had an uncharacteristically poor 1 for 7 night from 3-point range and the Panthers shot 3 of 22 from down town collectively. Meanwhile, Duquesne wing Emile Blackman, far from the most dangerous scorer on the squad, lit Pitt up for 21 points and made four threes.

Coming off a big win at Maryland, this game would have likely been a blip written off the absence of Artis if not for Pitt going on to lose nine of their first 10 ACC games.

Hindsight: Duquesne lost to Robert Morris four days later, went 3-15 in Atlantic-10 play and fired Jim Ferry at the end of the season.
KenPom disparity: 222-45 = 177
Emotion level: High

No. 1: Pitt 70, Nicholls State 75, Nov. 9, 2019

It’s not so much that the Panthers lost to Nicholls State, or how they lost (allowing the visitors to shoot 45.8% from beyond the 3-point line while turning the ball over 21 times), but when Pitt blew this game to the lowly Colonels of the Southland Conference.

This was the second game of Pitt’s season in Jeff Capel’s second season. The first had been a shocking upset of Florida State after the Seminoles had received preseason Top 25 votes and eventually went on to win the ACC. In that win, the Panthers looked like upstart world-beaters that could play with any team on any day.

A few days later against Nicholls State, they proved they could play down to anyone, too. The Colonels entered as 18.5-point favorites, but Pitt never led and trailed by as many as 16 in the second half before closing late to make things somewhat respectable.

So was branded the Jeykll-and-Hyde 2019-20 Panthers, who went on to several more high profile wins and several more head-scratching losses, though none worse than tripping over Nicholls.

Hindsight: Nicholls didn’t beat another high-major, losing to LSU by 10, Rhode Island by five and West Virginia by 26. They finished 21-10, tied for second in the Southland.
KenPom disparity: 273-65 = 208
Emotion level: Moderate

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Brandon
1 month ago

It appeared that one team had been coached in fundamentals and the other consistently failed to box out, get into defenaive stance, space properly on offence or defense or recognize the actual threats from St. Francis. I was visit curious to see this new team, how the freshmen would initially rotate and whether they could shoot better than the last several years…no need to be too concerned as this team is not going to win many games until they do basic fundamentals correctly…that is on the coaching staff to correct

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