It was right there Wednesday night for Pittsburgh – the program’s first ACC victory this winter. But like the Panthers’ seven previous outings against league opponents, it wasn’t meant to be. Pitt lost 72-68 loss to NC State, in a game where the Panthers allowed 13 unanswered points to the Wolfpack late in the second half. They now sit at 0-9 in conference play after a 60-55 loss to Syracuse.
Pitt came out firing on all cylinders against the Wolfpack. The Panthers shot a sizzling eight of 15 (53.3 percent) from 3-point land in building a 15-point lead, 43-28, just before halftime. Although the Wolfpack whittled away five of those points, Pitt still took a healthy 43-33 lead into the locker rooms for halftime. The NCSU game marked the first time Pitt led at halftime in any of its first eight ACC regular season contests.
After making eight 3-pointers in the first half, however, the Panthers went 0-for-14 from long range in the second half. Pitt still led by nine with six minutes left, but allowed NCSU to finish out the game on a 15-2 run.
Bottom of the barrel
The Panthers rank dead last in the ACC in scoring (64.4 ppg), shooting percentage (42.7 percent), rebounds per game (32.8 rpg), rebounding margin (-3.4), turnover margin (-3.7), assists-to-turnovers ratio (0.85), and steals (97). They’re also the only ACC team with a negative scoring margin against its opponents (-6.4).
The only other team in the ACC post-expansion era that can be uttered even in the same breath as this Pitt squad is the 2015-16 Boston College team. Those Eagles were the first team in nearly three decades – since the Maryland Terrapins of 1986-87 – to go through an entire ACC regular season without a win. BC was the sixth team all-time in ACC history to go winless. But Pitt has a bona fide chance of becoming the seventh.
Through 21 games, Pitt ranked No. 211 nationally in the KenPom.com national rankings – a full one hundred spots behind the next-worst ACC school, Georgia Tech. The Panthers are 277th in adjusted offense, 311th in adjusted tempo, and 137th in adjusted defense. By comparison, the 2015-16 Boston College squad was No. 225 nationally in the KenPom rankings. The Eagles were 320th in adjusted offense, 246th in adjusted tempo, and 100th in adjusted defense – all very comparable to this year’s Pitt team.
Over the entire history of the ACC, there are at least a couple teams out there that this Panthers squad could probably beat. One would have to be Clemson’s initial entries in the ACC in the league’s first two regular seasons of 1953-54 and 1954-55. It’s safe to say that Clemson was invited into the ACC from the Southern Conference because of Frank Howard’s football team, and not because of Banks McFadden’s basketball squad.
The 1953-54 and 1954-55 Tiger squads posted two of the ACC’s seven all-time winless ACC regular seasons, dropping 23 straight league games. Clemson’s streak reached 26 straight ACC losses before the Tigers finally beat Virginia for its first-ever ACC win on December 16, 1955 at the old Clemson Field House.
Georgia Tech went winless in its second full season in the ACC, going 0-14 back in 1980-81. But the Yellow Jackets were soon on the move under Bobby Cremins, winning the ACC Tournament and reaching the Elite Eight just four years later. Wake Forest had an 0-14 season in 1985-86, leading up to Maryland’s collapse the following year following Len Bias’ death and Lefty Driesell’s departure from College Park. Boston College was the latest winless ACC men’s basketball team two years ago.
Perhaps even more disturbing for Pitt than its won-loss record in ACC play is its attendance.
Only 2,566 fans reportedly made their way to the Petersen Events Center for the NC State game, making the 12,508-seat facility look like a ghost town. This season, Pitt is averaging just 3,885 live spectators per game – dead-last in the ACC by over 600 fans on average behind the next-closest school, Boston College. Nine ACC teams are averaging double the live spectators per game than the Panthers, while the ACC’s top five schools in average attendance – Syracuse, Lousiville, North Carolina, NC State, and Virginia – all average four to five times more fans per game than Pitt.
All the Panthers have to do is win once or twice in the coming weeks to avoid the stigma of being listed among the worst teams in ACC history. But coming off Pitt’s meltdown against NCSU – a team that has struggled to win away from Raleigh – the window of opportunity for the Panthers is shrinking.