Is Pitt Basketball Back?

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With the holidays in full swing these past few weeks, it may have been easy to miss what the Pitt Panthers basketball team has been up to.  A rocky start to the season has blossomed into not only watchable basketball, but also wins against top competition.  

The Panthers have started ACC play with a perfect 4-0 record, with recent wins over #25 North Carolina and #13 Virginia in their last two games.  Yes, you read that right... two straight wins against ranked opponents.  Pitt fans hoped we'd see that again out of our team one day in the future but I must admit, I didn't think it would come so soon.

I was in attendance for last night's game against the Virginia Cavaliers, which surprised even myself.  Coming into the season, I didn't anticipate going to any games this year.  There have been a lot of frustrating times under coach Jeff Capel's tenure and there were a lot of times last year where the team was unwatchable.  However, this season's squad has shown a life to them that those past teams didn't have.  

That, along with their recent success, made the decision to go to a Tuesday night game at 9:00 PM a lot easier to stomach and it was well worth it.  The Panthers got out to an early deficit, trailing by ten points at halftime.  However, they once again brought the tenacity they've shown in the second halves this year, doubling their first-half point output to squeak out a three-point victory against one of the top teams in the nation over the past five years.

Nike Sibande led the team with 16 points, but I credit this win to the team much more than any individual.  While their offense ramped up in the second half, I was just as impressed with their efforts on the defensive end.  It can be easy to make offense the focal point when playing behind by double digits, but the Panthers clamped down on defense, especially in the final minutes, with a great, all-around team performance to stymie the Cavaliers offensively.

To me, the most impressive thing about the win may have been that they did it in front of a fairly empty Petersen Events Center.  It's tough to get fans to a weeknight game when it starts at 9:00 PM.  (I'm sure it has something to do with TV scheduling but no matchup between East Coast teams should be starting that late.)  Not to mention, students are still on winter break, so the Oakland Zoo was only half-full at best.  That showed me that Pitt won this affair not solely on the backs of the fan support, an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled significantly on the road in recent years.

With all of that being said, I do think Pitt basketball is back...  to being watchable and appointment television for any Pitt fan.  This team has already proven that they are different than those other Pitt teams under Capel.  Even the national media has started to take notice of Pitt's start, a good sign that things are different when it comes to this team.

As Jon Rothstein notes, it's been six (long) years since Pitt has reached the NCAA Tournament.  However, this team has put that back in the conversation.  Their current record sits at 11-4 after a 1-3 start to the season, with all four losses coming against reputable programs.  A strong finish to the season and we may very well be watching Pitt basketball in March.  

I don't want to get ahead of myself for I've been a Pitt fan far too long and know what these teams can do when I start to get my hopes up.  However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take notice of this Pitt team.  I've missed a couple of games since the season started but I'll be sure to tune in from here on out, given what this team has showed me so far.  Their recent performances prove that they have the potential to end that six-year drought and it's time that you take notice if you haven't already.