At the beginning of the season, The Pitt News — along with most other sports media outlets — placed the Pitt men’s basketball team at the bottom of its preseason ACC basketball rankings. The Panthers’ prospects didn’t seem too promising, considering they were bringing back just two players from last season — the fewest returning this year in college basketball.
Midway through the season, the Panthers have more or less met the low preseason expectations set before them. The team stumbled through non-conference play with losses to Navy and Montana, finishing with an 8-5 record.
For perspective, last year’s squad — which finished with a 16-17 overall record — still went 11-2 in non-conference play. And after suffering double-digit losses in each of its first three ACC games, Pitt’s record now stands at 8-8 overall — dead last in the ACC.
But if you’d rather look on the bright side, Pitt did beat Duquesne in the annual City Game — something last year’s team failed to do. The Panthers also set a team record, although it wasn’t for any on-court achievement — the team’s 3.32 combined first semester GPA was the highest in program history.
And the young Panthers held their own against the No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers, taking them down to the wire before ultimately losing 69-60 in the Backyard Brawl in December.
Those first three ACC losses come with an asterisk next to them. Pitt’s leader in points and rebounds — senior Ryan Luther — has been out with injury to his right foot since Dec. 9.
Since Luther went down, junior guard/forward Jared Wilson-Frame has emerged as Pitt’s leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game on the season. Wilson-Frame’s experience and scoring ability have been a steadying presence for the Panthers. Of the team’s 16 games, Wilson-Frame has scored double-digits in 12 of them.
At the same time, though, it’s not a great sign when your leading scorer averages just 12.9 points per contest. That mark ranks 34th among all ACC players, and it’s the lowest average for any ACC team’s leading scorer.
After Luther, first-year guard Marcus Carr has emerged as the Panthers’ best all-around player, averaging the second most minutes per game with 28.6. Carr leads the team in assists with 64, more than twice the amount of the next player, Luther, who has 28.
Carr has also become an efficient scorer. His 3-point shooting average of 46 percent ranks second on the team behind fellow first-year guard Khameron Davis. Carr’s game was on full display in the Nov. 28 game against High Point, in which Carr shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
Against Louisville Jan. 2, head coach Kevin Stallings started the all-first-year lineup of Carr, Davis, Parker Stewart, Shamiel Stevenson and Terrell Brown, marking the first time in program history that five first years started a game.
The move signaled where the program is currently at — full rebuilding mode. These five players represent the young core of the team moving forward. Pitt’s main weakness — lack of experience — will in time become its strength, with so many first-year players playing significant time in the nation’s premier basketball conference.
With 15 games left on the schedule, all versus ACC opponents, the Panthers find themselves in an unusual position — they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The team most likely won’t be favored to win any individual game for the remainder of the schedule, meaning every victory from here on out will be cause for celebration.