Pitt Breaks 3 Losing Streaks by Executing Capel's Game Plan

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

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After the Pitt Panthers win against Louisville, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel was quoted as saying, “We have to bring people to the mud.  That’s what we have to do.  It’s not necessarily going to be pretty..”  Last night’s win against Florida State in Tallahassee was anything but pretty, but it worked.

Pitt went into last night’s game on three separate losing streaks.  They were on a 4-game losing streak overall, dropping two to Virginia Tech and one each to Wake Forest and Boston College.  They were also on a road game losing streak of 6 games, and technically if you don’t count the neutral site Madison Square Garden game against St. Johns, the Panthers have not won a true road game in over a year.  Their last true road victory was at the Carrier Dome when they beat Syracuse on January 6, 2021.

A third losing streak, which I touched on yesterday, was also snapped.  This one is calendar related.  The Panthers hadn’t won a game in February since February 3rd, 2021.  Since beating Virginia Tech that day, Pitt dropped their last five games in February of 2021, and had already lost three games in February this year.  Last night’s win snaps that 8-game losing streak as well.

If some of you missed last night’s win, I don’t blame you.  Not only were the Panthers riding these losing streaks, but the game started at 9pm.  Inexplicably two Eastern time zone teams were playing at 9pm.  On a Wednesday.

The game was ugly.  Like really ugly.  The halftime buzzer saw the Panthers up 21-20 on the Seminoles, and it looked like it’d be a race to 50 to crown the winner.  The 2nd half wasn’t much more efficient with the score ending 56-51 in favor of the Panthers.  However, it shows that if Pitt can keep games ugly, they can pull out some wins.  It’s what Capel has to work with this season, and when it happens, it has been successful.

One thing in particular I believe made the difference last night is offensive rebounding for Pitt.  If they are going to be an extremely poor shooting team, which they are this season, they need to be strong on the glass.  In both of the games against Virginia Tech, Pitt had two and zero offensive rebounds respectively.  Last night, the Panthers had 11 offensive rebounds, giving themselves nearly a dozen extra scoring opportunities. 

However, it still took Florida State shooting 16 of 56 for Pitt to win by a 5-point margin.  This is due to two aspects which an ugly team like Pitt must accel in.  When a team that already gets minimal scoring opportunities turns the ball over often, the wins will remain few and far between.  While the Panthers still won the turnover battle, turning the ball over 11 times is too much.

Also, Pitt has a talent for getting to the free throw line.  They have to because outside scoring weaknesses require the Panthers to drive to the basket more.  Earlier in the season, John Hugley was getting to the charity stripe at a greater pace than anyone else in the nation.  Unfortunately, Pitt shot just 50% from the free throw line last night.  That just cannot happen at the collegiate level.

So while the Panthers did win, and broke three separate losing streaks in the process, they won’t often face teams shooting just 28.6% from the field.  Fortunately, if Pitt cleans up both their free throw shooting and they turn the ball over less, they could sustain a 35-40% shooting team and still squeeze out victories.  This style of play can win, but the Panthers need to clean it up to be more successful. 

In the meantime, there is reason for celebration.  A road win in February for the Panthers is worth a lot lately.  Hail to Pitt.