Pittsburgh: Cruise control to turbulence

Teams can go from cruise control to turbulence in a matter of days. For the Panthers, two home losses in a row to unranked foes leave the team wondering whether this patch of rough air is a temporary distraction or a sign of more stormy weather ahead.

After a 10-0 start, Pittsburgh now finds itself coming off puzzling defeats to Bucknell and Georgetown. The former ended Pitt's 48-game winning streak against non-conference foes; the latter began the Big East slate with a loss to a team expected to finish near the bottom of the league. Both games came down to crunch time; in neither case were the Panthers able to get it done.

The Hoyas game may be particularly bothersome, as it came in conference play. After trailing 28-9 in the early going, Pitt came back and led by four with 3:29 left, and still were up 2 at the 1:45 mark. Then the Panthers fell apart. Similarly, the team led with 1:24 left against Bucknell and couldn't seal the deal.

One loss could be dismissed as an aberration, but the pair of defeats leaves a Top 25 team searching for answers as to where the defense and late-game heroics that have characterized the team for the past few years have gone.

The first step towards fixing things is playing better defense. It seems like the Panthers go through stretches where they lack the intensity that propelled the team to the top of the rankings. Other Pitt teams may have had that luxury. Last week's two losses showed that this year's edition does not.
  • Panther Notes: The vaunted Pittsburgh defense has been absent lately. Heading into the weekend, the last four Panthers opponents had shot 45 percent or better from the field. Each of the last three opponents have reached or crossed the 50 percent mark.

    Pitt's 2-3 zone was utterly ineffective in stopping the Hoyas in the first half. While inside baskets were hard to come by, Georgetown burned the Panthers defense by hitting 9 of 12 from three-point range.

    Pittsburgh hasn't lost three games in a row since 2001, but it enters the weekend on a two-game losing streak.

    Panthers Lineup: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard Antonio Graves, center Chris Taft, forward Yuri Demetris, forward Chevon Troutman.

    Taft Quote: "This team is real upset. We've lost two games we feel like we should have won. We put ourselves in a big hole. We battled back, but we can't do that." -- Chris Taft, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, following the loss to Georgetown.

  • In The Zone: Upcoming Games: vs. Rutgers, Jan. 11; at Villanova Jan. 15

    Key: Regroup. The Panthers have to be questioning themselves after the back-to-back losses, and can't afford an 0-2 start at home. Pitt needs to avoid those key defensive breakdowns that plagued it against Bucknell and Georgetown, and could use at least one convincing victory to help put the defeats in its rear-view mirror.

    Roster Report: Forward Chevon Troutman finished with just five points on five shots against the Hoyas. Coach Jamie Dixon said that Troutman was sick, and in fact had vomited in the first half.

    -- Carl Krauser didn't have one of his finest efforts against Georgetown. The point guard finished with seven assists, but made just two of his eight shots from the floor and had four turnovers.

    -- Chris Taft continues to make a case for Big East player of the year honors. He finished with 20 points and six rebounds against the Hoyas.

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