The Pitt basketball team lost 91-60 to 20th-ranked Michigan on Wednesday night in the opening game of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. After looking challenged early in this game, Pitt couldn’t hang with the Wolverines for a full 40 minutes, and completely collapsed after halftime.
Pitt now has a 1-2 record on the season. The Panthers will return to action tomorrow night for the second game in Brooklyn and will face either Arizona State or VCU. So what stood out from Wednesday’s game? Let’s dig into that.
1) Pitt doesn’t look competitive for the second straight game
I don’t think anyone reasonably expected Pitt to come into Wednesday’s game and beat Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a Sweet 16 run, are ranked 20th in the country, and have one of the top players in the country in Hunter Dickinson. They are a really great team. Michigan was the favorite going into this game, and it proved that for 40 minutes.
Although I didn’t think Pitt would win, I thought they would look competitive and hang in there longer than they did. Pitt made some shots early and traded baskets for the first 10 minutes. Even after Michigan figured out what it wanted to do on offense, Pitt went in and kept it a six-point game at halftime.
It was almost like a script with the West Virginia game on Friday, where Pitt fought early on, but a turnover turned and they couldn’t hit the other gear like their opponent did. Michigan started to do what it wanted on offense, which is fine and almost expected because they are a talented offensive team. Pitt clearly didn’t have the firepower to keep it competitive.
And while Michigan is a capable team on offense, the Panthers left a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolverines looked far too easy, and finished with 38 points in the paint.
I think we all know the state of this Pitt basketball program. They haven’t been very good lately, but at least this team looks deeper and more talented than they did last year, so it’s concerning that this team has hit a wall in the second half in back-to-back games and seemingly had no way. of giving up. Again, I don’t think Pitt was expected to win this game, but a lot of people weren’t expecting a 30 point loss either. Pitt needs to show signs of improvement during this crucial season for Jeff Capel, and these two losses are not helping the cause.
2) John Hugley returned to the lineup
The only positive from Wednesday’s game was the return of Pitt’s best player to the lineup. John Hugley earned the start on Wednesday. He finished with 9 points in 22 minutes of action. The junior center looked tired and it was clear that he was not up to speed yet.
Hugley’s knee was injured in the offseason. He was cleared to return to basketball activities last week, and only participated in full contact for a handful of days. I think it’s obvious that the rust was due to those factors. Hugley is a good player and I think he proved that last season, and he will be Pitt’s top option … in time. Hugley was clearly not himself. He finished with just one rebound and didn’t look too confident on offense, though his teammates need to look for him on the block more.
The expected matchup between Hugley and Dickinson was kind of a wash. They are two of the best centers in college basketball and the star player for their respective teams, but the game was never really defined by the two big men.
Dickinson certainly had more of an impact, but he finished with a season-low 11 points. Michigan had a better supporting cast and while Dickinson’s scoring was limited, he was more active on defense and got his teammates involved.
I think Hugley will need a little more time to look like himself, but at least that process is well under way. Pitt has to be very good, and I think that will happen, but he wasn’t there in his first game.
3) Nelly Cummings wants more from Pitt
Nelly Cummings finished with 4 points, 5 assists, and 3 turnovers in Wednesday’s loss to Michigan. He left the game late in the second half and went to the locker room with an apparent injury and did not return to the floor. Definitely something to look forward to tomorrow’s game.
That said, Cummings needs to bring more to this team. The veteran transfer from Colgate has played in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. He was supposed to bring a winning mentality and be a consistent force in the backcourt this season, but he’s off to a great start. Cummings is averaging three turnovers per game to this point and is shooting just 8-of-24 from the field in these first three games, and is just 1-of-10 from three-point range.
Cummings was plagued by foul trouble in last week’s loss to West Virginia, but he avoided that on Wednesday. The senior guard did very little to make an impact for his team. I’m not sure Cummings is expected to be a big scoring threat, but he needs to provide a little more than he already has, running the offense and setting up his teammates.
Cummings was obviously supposed to get help in the backcourt from freshman Dior Johnson, but his capture changed the outlook for this team and the look of the point guard position. I think Jeff Capel expects the strength of Nelly Cummings, and he has been successful in Division-1 basketball for a few seasons now. They need to step it up, because I think Pitt’s overall operation will improve with better decision-making and play from the point guard spot.