It looked like Pitt had solved all of its problems with the return of point guard Tray Woodall, which led to four straight victories and improved offense, but this week the walls came crashing in.
The Panthers are 15-11 and 4-9 with five games left. They obviously need to sweep the five to reach 20 victories and .500 in conference play, which would probably get them an NCAA bid but it's is a long haul, although No. 23 Louisville is the only ranked team left on their schedule.
The problem is that even with Woodall back, the offense hasn't blossomed, scoring just 51 against defensive conscious South Florida and 66 against Seton Hall.
The problem has been with inconsistency at guard, which figured to be the strength.
Ashton Gibbs, the preseason choice as Player of the Year, managed just four points at South Florida before coming back with 26 at Seton Hall. At the same time, Woodall scored 29 against Villanova and 24 at West Virginia, but managed only 11 against South Florida and nine against Seton Hall on 2 of 10 shooting, 1 of 5 from 3-point range.
This does set up a showdown this week when a struggling West Virginia team, also looking to stay in NCAA Tournament contention, comes to Pitt for the final time before moving to the Big 12.
--It is rare for Pitt to lose two in a row. Coach Jamie Dixon is 43-19 in games after a loss.
--Because of injuries to Tray Woodall, Dante Taylor, Ashton Gibbs, Cameron Wright and Nasir Robinson, coach Jamie Dixon has had to juggle his lineup all year, using 11 different players to start, comprising seven different starting lineups.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1-6 -- Winning on the road is supposed to be hard, especially in the Big East, but Pitt had put together a winning road record in three straight seasons. Not this year. With losses at South Florida and Seton Hall this season, the Panthers were 1-6 in the Big East on the road.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm definitely confident in that, I'm going to push my guys every day, push myself. We have to get back in the gym and get back to work." -- Pitt PG Tray Woodall, when asked why he did not believe Pitt would have a mental letdown against Seton Hall after losing to South Florida. Pitt lost to Seton Hall, too.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. West Virginia, Feb. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: A rematch that could be the final renewal of the Backyard Brawl, which goes back 106 years. Pitt stunned WVU in Morgantown and always seems to win at home since the Pete was built, possessing four straight victories in Pittsburgh.
The Mountaineers are desperate for a victory, having lost five of six. PG Tray Woodall buried them in the first game in Morgantown but you can assume Coach Bob Huggins will make adjustments. Controlling WVU C Deniz Kilicli is at the top of the list of things Pitt has to do as he has become a revitalized force for the Mountaineers. F Kevin Jones, the Big East leader in scoring and rebounds, will get his.
--vs. South Florida, Feb. 19
KEY MATCHUPS: South Florida beat Pitt last week in Tampa with big G Hugh Robinson shutting down Pitt high scorer G Ashton Gibbs, who finished with just four points and no threes. South Florida is among the best defensive teams in the conference and figure to be able to battle the Panthers physically with Augustus Gilmore and Ron Anderson Jr. down low and on the boards. Pitt has been as good as its point guard Tray Woodall.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior F Dante Taylor has given Pitt a huge boost with his play inside and he figures to be a key player not only the rest of this year but next season. He had a rough spell for a couple of games in January and even did not see action in one game.
"I just knew I could play better," Taylor said. "I wasn't playing good. I had to step up and help my team in any way I could. Even if I'm not scoring, there's always something out there I can do: get an assist, block a shot, play defense. Just because I didn't score, I tried not to look down on myself, pick myself up and move on."
Taylor found himself against West Virginia and has moved forward from there, not necessarily putting up big numbers by playing well.
"He's made some big plays," coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's gotten the ball in the right position. We're getting more penetration. We're getting dump-offs. We're taking better shots, which gives us better opportunities for offensive rebounds. He's playing well."
--G Ashton Gibbs missed practice before the South Florida game with a strained calf and while he played against the Bulls, he scored only four points. He bounced back with a huge game against Seton Hall, scoring 26 points. Gibbs needed only three more points, entering the week, to move into the Top 10 career scorers at the school.
--Since making 13 consecutive shots against Georgetown and West Virginia, F Nasir Robinson has made only 7 of 21, which is 33.3 percent. He was held to two points by Seton Hall and four by Villanova.