Road Games Continue to Give Pitt Panthers Trouble

(Allison Lee Isley)

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At a time of year when most Pittsburghers would be happy to leave the city and dodge the winter weather, Pitt's basketball team has not felt the same.  Playing road games has not been kind to this team in the 2021-2022 season and last night was no different.  The Panthers fell to Wake Forest last night, 91-75, adding another tally to the road loss column.  While the offense scored at a higher clip than usual, conceding 91 points ultimately sealed their fate in this one.  There's a few reasons why going on the road has not been kind to them this season, but it's pretty safe to say this team does not enjoy travelling to these road environments.

Last night's defeat drops the Panthers' record to 8-14 overall, with a 3-8 record within the conference.  I can't say the outcome was much of a surprise, however.  The Panthers have yet to win a true road game this season, going 0-7 in such games.  While they do have a neutral court win at Madison Square Garden against St. John's, that doesn't classify as a true road game.  For this, we're talking about playing a team on their home court in front of their home fans.  

To find their last true road victory, you have to look at over a year ago, a 63-60 win at Syracuse on January 6th of last year.  And while this has been a common theme for a year now, it has been even more drastic of late.  Pitt has lost their last four road games by an average of 18 points, an eye-opening figure.  For a team that appeared to be making strides earlier this season, that is certainly concerning.  

Now, it's always difficult to pinpoint why exactly teams play worse on the road.  There's a number of factors that come into play, with the most obvious being playing in front of road fans in tough environments.  However, these last four games have not come in the more raucous ACC environments we've become accustomed to fearing over the years.  Syracuse, Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest are far from the rowdy road spots that Duke, North Carolina and Virginia have to offer.

There's also the officiating factor.  Referees usually give the advantage to the home team, whether that be a conscious decision or not.  Pitt has become reliant on their free throw shooting this year, especially center John Hugley.  He is shooting free throws at one of the highest rates in the country, so if he the referees are calling it more in favor of the home team, he and the rest of the Panthers won't be getting to the charity stripe nearly as much.  

Lastly, and maybe the one that needs to be addressed the most here, is the preparation aspect of playing road games.  Teams get into routines when playing at home that are a lot harder to replicate on the road.  Travel is a large part of college basketball and can easily throw a team off of their typical schedule.  We've often seen the Panthers start these road games off slowly, with scoring droughts becoming more frequent as a result.

While expectations weren't high for this team going into the season, it is still frustrating to see them struggle in all of these road games.  It is very possible that they finish without a road win this season.  There are four road games remaining on their schedule - Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina and Notre Dame.  I would consider all of those teams to be in the top half of the ACC and tougher places to play than any of the four sites they've lost at most recently.  

I really hope to not be writing a year from now how it has been over two years since Pitt has won a road game but I'm not certain that won't be the case.  They haven't shown much to make me think otherwise and it's not as if the schedule is getting any easier.  At this point, I will even take a competitive road game that doesn't result in a double-digit loss.  I could really use something, anything, to get my hopes back up for this team.