Offensive Woes Continue to Haunt Pitt Basketball

(Matt Hawley/Pitt Athletics)

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for continued Pittsburgh Sports coverage: 
With a lot of Pitt fans' eyes set on this weekend's ACC football championship, the basketball team quietly hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers Tuesday night as part of the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  They lost a nail-biter, 54-53, on a last second put-back layup, that featured a Panther offensive collapse down the stretch.  Poor offense has the been a large factor for this team so far this season and Tuesday night unfortunately was no different. 

Unlike the high-powered Pitt football offense we see each week, watching Pitt basketball's offense is an unenjoyable experience.  Each offensive possession features a lot of standing around and, more often than not, ends with a low quality shot.  This was never more true than on the team's final possession with 40 seconds left and the team up one point.  

Pitt guard Jamarius Burton held the ball at the top of the key for the majority of the shot clock before driving into the lane and taking an off-balance jumper that barely grazed the rim.  If my memory serves me correctly, I don't believe the ball was passed one single time on the possession.  

This then led to the Gophers game-winning basket on the next, and final, possession of the game.  That sequence of events is a microcosm of what this team has displayed all year - poor offense when the team needs it most.

Quality Play from Hugley Continues

While the overall offense was dismal, there was one truly bright spot on the night - the play of center John Hugley.  It was pretty evident early on in the game that he was going to provide most of Pitt's scoring.  Hugley started the game scoring 20 of Pitt's first 29 points and Minnesota struggled to find an answer for his inside presence.  He finished the game with an impressive 25 points and 14 rebounds.  When you also factor in that the rest of the Panthers combined for 28 points on a combined 11-36 from the field, it's easy to see that he was clearly the best Pitt player on the floor last night.  

Which makes Pitt's offensive game plan down the stretch that much more confusing.  Hugley's last field goal attempt occurred with 4:35 left in the game.  On a night when your best guy is playing as well as he was, he needs to be the focal point of the offense each time down the floor.  

Take, for example, the play I mentioned earlier when Burton took an inexplicable jump shot on Pitt's final possession.  Your team is up one point in the waning moments of the game and yet, you don't give your best player a touch in the post.  It's inexcusable and a lot of that comes down to coaching.  

Coaches have to highlight their strengths, especially for a team that possesses so few of them.  Sure, Hugley was getting double teamed for a good portion of the second half, but he still needs to be a factor in the offense.  He attempted 11 free throws in the game, making six of them.  Certainly not a great percentage, but when you factor in that the rest of your team is shooting below 33% from the field, Hugley getting to the free throw line is still a positive outcome.  There's absolutely no excuse for him not attempting a shot in the final four minutes of the game.

Missed Opportunity

In a game where the defense played particularly well (even if it is against one of the bottom-feeders in the Big Ten), there is no reason Pitt should have lost this game.  There aren't too many games when Pitt is going to have the experience advantage - Minnesota returned only 8% of their team minutes and 5% of their scoring from last season.  Also, in a season where wins are going to be hard to come by, this undoubtedly should have been one of them.  

Yet, poor offensive efficiency led to their demise.  John Hugley was the best player on the floor last night and he should have been the reason Pitt won.  Instead, the offense went away from him when they needed him the most and it proved to be costly.  There is a total disjointedness to this offense's flow and plan of attack.  Unless it gets fixed before ACC play begins, I'm not so sure Pitt will complete conference play with a single ACC win.