Pitt Avenges 2017 Loss Against Louisville, Living On the 3-Pointer

(Pitt Panthers website)

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The Pitt Panthers won in resounding fashion last night against the Louisville Cardinals, beating them convincingly 91-57.  The Panthers finally avenged the 106-51 beating they took to the Cardinals in 2017 by dishing out a beating of their own.  

Louisville sports a 3-21 record this season, so the win itself was not of much significance.  However, it's the way they beat them, and have beat several teams this season, that has caught my attention.  This Panthers team has transformed their offense to be centered around shooting three-pointers and it is a large part of their newfound success.

Oftentimes last season, when discussing Pitt basketball, I noticed myself droning on and on about how that team could not shoot threes whatsoever.  They were so poor from behind the arc that they just about stopped taking those shots midway through the season.  I remember looking at the rankings of all 350+ Division 1 teams and finding Pitt in the bottom 10% of just about all three-point shooting metrics.  That's why this season has been such a shock.

This Pitt team has completely changed their playing style.  They went from playing old-man basketball (no offense to any of our older readers), where every shot was seemingly inside the arc, to adapting the more modern style of play and shooting threes whenever given the opportunity.  Just last night, the Panthers shot 17 of 31 from three, accounting for 51 of their 91 points.  17 made threes in one game is pretty remarkable.  Only three games ago, in a 81-79 win against Wake Forest, Pitt made 18 threes, which tied the program record for most in one game.  It's crazy to think how far this team has come in just one season.

Now it's pretty clear that a lot of that has to do with the transfers added in the offseason.  Blake Hinson, Greg Elliott, and Nelly Cummings have been astronomical in this shift to more outside shooting.  Along with the return of Nike Sibande, these four players have provided the bulk of the scoring from three-point range.  

Coach Jeff Capel also deserves a lot of credit not only for bringing these guys in this offseason, but also for the shift in the style of play.  It was evident to everyone that what they were trying to do offensively last season was disastrous, and it looks like changing that was clearly his main focus when recruiting for this season.  The stats back this up as well.

So far this season, Pitt ranks in the top 25 for both three-pointers made per game and percentage of points coming from three-pointers.  That's in the top 10% of all Division 1 teams for each.  That's a stark contrast to last season.  It truly feels like I'm watching a completely different team play.  Which, for the most part through recruiting and acquiring transfers, it is a completely different team.  Even the best player on last season's team, John Hugley, hasn't been on the court for most of the season.   

I know the buzz around Pitt right now is the hopeful return to the NCAA Tournament and how they continue to be snubbed each week in the Top 25 rankings.  Just for the record, I try not to make too big of a deal out of it because the rankings don't matter all that much.  Other than potentially more national media exposure, which would be nice, they don't have an effect on where teams are seeded in the tournament, so I try to disregard it.  What I'm more concerned with is how this season's new playstyle can lead to success in the tournament, if the Panthers do in fact make it.

If you can make threes, you're never out of a game.  Plain and simple.  This team has showed that numerous times this season. I know people didn't come here for a math discussion, so I'll make it nice and easy... 3 > 2.  And when that's the case, it takes a lot fewer possessions to cut down a deficit.  Not only is this conducive for getting back into games, but it's very favorable for the NCAA Tournament.  

Every year in the tournament, there always seems to be that team that surprises people because they get hot from three and just look to be unbeatable because of it.  Getting hot at the right time takes a bit of luck, but when your offense is set up as Pitt's currently is, there's always the chance that they can be that team.  With the number of sharpshooters on this year's team, its definitely not out of the realm of possibility, which is exciting just to think about.

Now it can't go without mentioning... as the old saying goes, live by the three, die by the three.  When your offense is primarily predicated on three-point shooting, there's just as equal of a chance of going cold from behind the arc.  It can sink you as a team just as quickly as it could get back you in the game.  One of those cold games can get you out in the first round of the tournament in a hurry, so there are certainly cons with this type of offensive scheme.

But that's a chance I'm more than willing to take.  I went from talking last season about how unwatchable Pitt basketball was to now discussing them making the NCAA tournament.  The magnitude of this team's turnaround can't be overstated.  And the majority of that has to do with Capel's willingness to start the offense over from scratch.  

This new crop of players has fully bought in to this style and it's paying massive dividends.  Let's hope this shooting prowess remains the rest of the season and helps this team make some noise in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.  This is a team that has shown they are ready to live by the three.