The Pittsburgh Panthers were projected by a lot of fans to be a less-than-five-win team this college basketball season.
Currently, they sit at 6-5 before ACC play begins in 12 days, which is good for dead last in the conference.
A lackluster season was expected from the Panthers and while they have some bright spots, the injury to Ryan Luther comes at a horrible time for an already lowly team.
He couldn’t participate in the 72-51 victory over McNeese State on Saturday after finding out he had a stress reaction in his right foot and will miss a couple of weeks.
Heading into ACC play, the Panthers will be without their on-the-court leader.
Luther and Jonathan Milligan are the only returning players on this Panthers team and Milligan isn’t a program changing talent by any means. Luther is at least a legitimate college basketball player who has been the backbone of a young Pitt game that soon will head into ACC play against the likes of schools like Duke, North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia, among others.
“Injuries are part of the game,” head coach Kevin Stallings said. “The rest of our team has to be able to deal with it and try to overcome it. Ryan will overcome it. He’s a champion. He’ll do his part. The rest of us have to do ours.”
He’s right. Injuries are part of sports. He will be back eventually and Pitt will be expected to move along without him.
But right now, the question is where will the leadership come from?
Jared Wilson-Frame and Marcus Carr will be the youngsters that must push this team for the next few weeks while Luther rehabs and recovers from the untimely injury. They are the team’s most functional scorers sans Luther.
One frightening statistic from the McNeese State game was the horrific first half shooting by both teams. They combined to shoot 15 for 65 from the field in the opening quarter and Pitt ended up with 25 points at halftime, their lowest halftime mark on the season. That’s not an accident.
This was Wilson-Frame said following the game.
“I think it was just different from having a veteran leader on the floor,” Wilson-Frame said. “Vocally, that was where we had to step up…The thing that we did miss was definitely that veteran leadership. That voice out on the court that no matter what, he’s going to be calm and know what to do at all times.”
That’s a younger player noticing that, even in a game against a team like McNeese State, things were tougher without having that veteran voice. Imagine what things could be like in a few weeks when ACC play starts.
There are a few winnable games in ACC play so to say Pitt is doomed is a bit far fetched. Over the next month, though, they will face Duke twice, Miami once, Louisville who has always given the Panthers fits, and a Syracuse team that is a shell of themselves but has always been a Panther rival.
A few weeks likely means a range of 2-4 weeks, so for the Panthers sake, let’s hope it is closer to the former.