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Pitt Basketball

Saunders: The Metrics Were Right About Pitt Basketball



The Panthers mascot as Pitt faces Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C. on March 9, 2023. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

The computers were right.

For most of the 2022-23 season, the consensus of those that use math to evaluate college basketball were significantly more bearish on Pitt than the conventional wisdom, as the Panthers raced out to a 21-8 start and a 14-4 mark in ACC play.

Despite their best record in years, the Panthers were not appreciated by the sport’s computational rankings, with the likes of, and the NCAA’s NET ratings suggesting that Pitt was a team that belonged more in the 50-70 tier of college basketball teams than one that would normally be assigned to a team that most of late February and early March no more than a game out of first place in the ACC.

The cries were loud that the NET and KenPom rankings were nonsensical or somehow unfair to the Panthers, and that not only should Pitt not be an NCAA Tournament bubble team, but that the Panthers should have been ranked in the AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

On Feb. 27, the Panthers were ranked in that poll, for the first time since 2016. Since then, Pitt has lost three of its last four games, including a dropping a game at 14th-place Notre Dame and a 27-point loss to Duke — which finished with an identical 14-6 ACC record — in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro on Thursday.

The end of the season slide has certainly lessened the level of enthusiasm about the Panthers headed into the NCAA Tournament, and there will now be at least some drama on Sunday about whether or not Jeff Capel’s team will be in the field of 68, let alone where they will be seeded.

But it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the run the Panthers were on when they lost just four games from before Thanksgiving to after Valentine’s Day was not likely to continue.

What KenPom’s efficiency rating — and the NET that is based on a similar model — is trying to tell us is the true playing ability of a team, regardless of its record. A big part of Pitt’s record was a lot of close wins, many against lower-level competition, interspersed with more than handful of really bad losses, both in terms of the opponents and the margin of victory.

The signature of Pitt’s 2022-23 season is its ability to win those close games. But the fact that Pitt was in so many close games, while also holding some big losses and also losing some major upsets meant that pattern was unlikely to continue.

It hasn’t. Pitt lost to Notre Dame in a seven-point game, Miami in a two-point game and then got blown out by Duke. It doesn’t always turn out this way. Sometimes improbable things just keep on happening. But KenPom has become an industry standard for a reason, and not because it’s bad at making predictions.

If you follow that line of thinking, maybe a slide is the wrong way to characterize the end of Pitt’s season. The Panthers didn’t fall off a cliff (at least until the second half against Duke), but instead this has been more of a case of water finding its level.

While Pitt’s record and one-time top 25 ranking got hopes of a better finish in the heads of many, what Capel and the Panthers have accomplished this season remains no less significant.

For the first time in a long time, the Pitt fanbase fell back in love with its basketball team, and one way or another, the Panthers are going to keep playing into mid-March. Bringing back that feeling means more than the number that is or isn’t beside Pitt’s name and how good, bad or average the computers think they are. 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Grayson mitchell
Grayson mitchell
21 days ago

Lol someone’s butt hurt about not getting their press
Conference. This site sucks.

20 days ago

This site rocks.

20 days ago

Move to Cleveland. Jack Ass

20 days ago

Analytics/rating systems have their place. But the #1 way to judge a team’s resume is by wins and losses. And it shouldn’t matter if you win or lose by 1 or by 30. Pitt is now being penalized for losing big in a few games. It’s unfair, IMO.

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