Pitt Basketball Routs Northwestern with Best Performance So Far

(Associated Press)

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While everyone was busy watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Indianapolis Colts last night, another Pittsburgh team also won. This one was in a bit more convincing fashion.  The Pitt Men's Basketball team faced off against Northwestern as part of the ACC/Big 10 challenge yesterday, beating the Wildcats 87-58.  The story of the game was Pitt's sharpshooting from behind the arc, a facet of their game that has been sorely missed this season.

Yes, you read that right.  Pitt beat an opponent you have actually heard of before by almost 30 points last night.  And the Panthers have their shot-making abilities to thank for such a dominant performance.  They shot 14/22 from deep, an astounding 64% clip.  The reason that is astounding is because this team has shot a hair under 30% from 3 so far this season.  It felt like I was watching a completely different team from prior games.

The hot shooting was contagious too, as the 3-pointers were spread out throughout the team.  Forward Blake Hinson made four, followed by guards Nellie Cummings, Greg Elliott and Nike Sibande, who each made three.  But that wasn't the craziest part of the scoring in this game.  No, that would be that center John Hugley IV finished the game with zero points.  Zilch.  Nil.  Nada.  And he only took one shot all game!

Last year, that would've been a major problem.  Hugley was the heart and soul of the offense.  That team's scoring was almost solely reliant on his production.  To think about him taking only one shot in a game last year seems almost unfathomable.  But that is precisely why this year's team feels different.  Head coach Jeff Capel prioritized adding depth through veteran scorers and it has certainly shown thus far.

I'm sure this season will be full of ups and downs, but it's the kind of performances like last night that give me the slightest bit of hope.  The depth of this roster has a lot to do with that.  Of the guys mentioned above that shot lights out last night, three of them are new additions to this year's roster through the transfer portal.  

Hinson transferred from Ole Miss, Cummings from Colgate and Elliott from Marquette.  That is the current state of college basketball and Capel has used it to his advantage.  It's a breath of fresh air for fans as well.  The offense last year was unwatchable most of the time, so the addition of several guys capable of scoring is a welcome sight for sore eyes.

Last night's win also felt different.  While I can't say Northwestern is a college basketball powerhouse, they also aren't like some of the bottom-feeding teams that Pitt has beaten so far this season.  Pitt came into this game as an 8-point underdog, on the road.  That's a spot that Pitt has lost countless times in recent years.  

Also, Northwestern had yet to give up 60 points at home this year... the Panthers surpassed that by 27 points.  While it didn't start off great last night, once a couple shots started to fall, you could see this team's confidence on full display.  It's that type of confidence that has been missing on this team for the past several years and could be crucial to scratching out a few wins in close games.

Now I'm not saying this Pitt team is NCAA Tournament bound.  Or even NIT bound, for that matter.  But this team makes me enjoy watching Pitt basketball again.  Admittedly, I had to stop watching at the end of last season.  The team looked dreadful and uninspired.  This team feels very different.  

We will soon find out if that is actually the case, however.  Pitt has their first ACC game this Friday, against a scrappy North Carolina State team.  It will be a good test to see if this team's shooting has actually turned around or if last night was simply just a fluke.  Either way, the outlook of this team seems to be more promising than any Panthers team we've seen in recent years and I'm all for it.