PITTSBURGH — In the midst of its worst stretch of basketball this season, No. 4 Pitt is celebrating.

And while the Panthers deserve a great deal of credit for earning at least a share of the Big East regular season title (the best conference in the country), they also deserve to be scrutinized.

Opposing teams are figuring Pitt out.

Pitt is 7-3 since Jan. 24 — its first conference loss of the year. Most of those wins are rather unimpressive, beating a depleted West Virginia team twice, a Villanova team that has imploded since ESPN’s Gameday arrived on campus, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida twice.

The Panthers have lost to the Irish, St. John’s and Louisville.

What’s most glaring about this stretch, though, has been the overall lack of focus. Pitt has been unable to put together a solid first half scoring effort on a regular basis.

Here’s a look at some sub-par halftime scores:

  • Jan. 29: Rutgers 28, Pitt 27
  • Feb 7: WVU 25, Pitt 23
  • Feb. 12: Villanova 27, Pitt 23
  • Feb. 19: Pitt 27, St. John’s 26
  • Feb 24: WVU 31, Pitt 30
  • Feb. 27: Louisville 31, Pitt 22
  • March 2: USF 27, Pitt 24

Pitt, a team that averaged nearly 80 points a game for 75 percent of the year, can barely get on pace for 50 in the first half. And still, this is what I hear after the game…

“One win to be outright champs,” senior center Gary McGhee said.

Yea, true, but…

“It’s the toughest conference in the country,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

We get that, too. But, I mean…

“We played with a lot more energy in the second half,” McGhee said. “We executed our plays and we knocked down shots.”

There we go. That’s my point.

Where’s the energy in the first half? Where’s the killer instinct this team used to have?

I understand that conference play means more familiarity with opponents and, thus, closer games. I undertand that the Big East is the toughest conference in the country and any win is a quality win.

But I also understand that, in any sport, the way you enter the postseason is the most telling factor in how you’ll perform in the postseason.

For Pitt, it’s not looking like a long run is in the future.

“We’re just going to go out there (Saturday) and get the win and get the hats and T-shirts,” McGhee said.

Might be the only chance we have to see that.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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