It’s fun enough that we’re talking about Pitt basketball again and it’s not in the context of finding or hiring a new coach or desperately reminiscing about the “good ole days of the Big East.”
This program is finally showing some life post-Jamie Dixon and I, for one, love every bit of it. But there’s more to it for this team.
See, as a jaded Pitt fan I’ve been watching and waiting for the bottom to fall out. I know, it’s a terrible attitude and way to watch your favorite team but I can’t help it.
It seemed too good to be true that this would be the year the Panthers put it together to get an NCAA Tournament caliber team out there, considering the starting five looks completely different from last season and these dudes never played with each other before. Plus, their best player from last year John Hugley isn’t even around.
But here we are. Four Panthers are averaging in double digits, they’re shooting well from three and they’re playing with unapologetic confidence. Now, it’s not a done deal yet. In fact, the NET rankings don’t like Pitt and because of that, the Panthers need to take care of business the rest of the way to ensure a berth into the tournament.
What excites beyond what I just stated is the fact that this team has shown an ability that many Tournament-bound Pitt teams haven’t shown in the past…the ability to close.
The Panthers have been in seven ACC games decided by three points or less. Their record in those games? 6-1. That’s knowing how to close.
It hasn’t been just one guy, either. Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Nike Sibande and Federiko Federiko have all made plays and hit shots late in games to seal it.
In an interview with The Cook and Joe Show on Friday, Hinson said that they don’t look to get any one person the final look at the end of games, they have confidence in all five guys on the floor. And it shows. He’s not just saying that.
They’ve shown time and time again that the big moments aren’t too big for them. They haven’t gotten rattled. They’ve played their best basketball when they’ve needed to have it most. That momentum-swinging three. That extra effort putback. Those clutch free throws.
All marks of a veteran team that knows how to close. So, as long as they get in, if they keep it close and continue to finish strong…maybe they can make some noise in the postseason?
Maybe that’s getting way ahead of myself. All I know is, I’m enjoying every bit of it as it lasts. In today’s college basketball, you have no idea who’s going to stay and go. Who are they going to bring in from the transfer portal next. And how are they going to fit the pieces together?
Make no mistake, Pitt will likely have to rely on the portal to survive in the ACC long term despite it being a down year in the conference. Can they continue to make transfer magic happen? Who knows.
But that’s why I’m just soaking in this season for whatever it gives. You have no idea what things might look like next year. So you take it as it comes and don’t look too far ahead.
Enjoy the moment, Pitt fans.
The Panthers are respectable, gutsy and fun to watch again. Here’s hoping they get all they possibly can out of this season.