After a modest 63-59 upset of Towson, the Panthers men’s basketball team wrapped up their non-conference schedule with an 8-5 record and their next game will begin the ACC portion of their schedule.
That comes on Dec. 30 against No. 6 Miami at home. If the football team’s home win against Miami is any indication, maybe the Panthers can pull of the improbable upset.
The first 13 games saw a lot of the growing pains that this Panthers team was expected to have. In both the McNeese State and Delaware State match ups, Pitt had one electric quarter and one quarter where they couldn’t hit a shot for their lives. The Backyard Brawl had that feeling too.
Against No. 18 West Virginia, Pitt had fallen behind by 18 at halftime but had the game within two points with less than 6 minutes to go. They went on to lose by nine points.
But the battle shown by the Panthers is something they had to take a positive out of. That’s exactly what head coach Kevin Stallings did.
“We got our butts kicked in the first half,” Stallings said. “Guys of lesser character would have put their heads between their legs and thought the night was over…I couldn’t have asked any more out of them than they gave.”
For such a young team, that’s got to be one of the highest marks a veteran head coach can give his kids knowing that this is a rebuilding year. While many fans hate to hear the word “rebuild” in sports, the future is very bright for a team that will be largely similar over the next four years.
With that said, the Panthers won’t be a legitimate contender in the ACC this season. But that doesn’t mean they can’t play the role of spoiler.
The ACC is littered with some of college basketball’s most premier teams such as Miami, Duke and North Carolina, among many others.
The core group of guards Marcus Carr and Jared Wilson-Frame as well as forwards Shamiel Stevenson and Ryan Luther, who’s slated to miss another few weeks of action with a stress reaction in his foot, will hope to win a few underdog games. They can compete easily with teams like Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. They have proven to be able to stay in games with Syracuse and Louisville over the years.
The real test will be against the ranked teams throughout the conference. Currently, there are four ranked teams in the conference. On top of the aforementioned premier programs, Florida State is currently ranked No. 24.
A lot of media outlets had the Panthers winning less than five games all season. They’ve already got eight and could conceivably win another 5-8 games based on being favored in some games and factoring in an upset or two.
Jonathan Milligan, the team’s only other senior outside of Luther, had a positive outlook on the rest of the season after beating Towson on Friday night.
“Everybody counts us out,” Milligan said. “That’s something we have in the back of our minds all the time. But we have the utmost confidence in each other and our ability to win as a team. If we keep getting better and keep competing, we’ll change a lot of people’s opinions.”
Knowing that this season is pretty much a year where Pitt had virtually no chance at making the NCAA Tournament, it’s great that Milligan’s last season of collegiate ball is one where he’s helping to groom the mindset of his soon-to-be alma mater. Watch for this team to win a few games they otherwise shouldn’t.
They’re hungry and they’ve got two veteran leaders at the helm of everything hungry to end their Pitt careers on a good note.