Barometer Game Says Stormy Weather Ahead

Pitt drops Texas Tech, 76-53, in Progressive Legends Classic semifinals matchup in Brooklyn, NY.

Most reasonable college hoops observers possessing a shred of objectivity didn't expect Texas Tech to beat undefeated Pittsburgh in Brooklyn. Most didn't think the Red Raiders would even severely challenge the Panthers. The Las Vegas oddsmakers installed Pitt as an 11-point favorite, and from my vantage point, that spread seemed conservative. Having said that, we might have expected Tech to at least be competitive against a team projected to finish sixth in the ACC. But, disappointingly enough, the Red Raiders were never in this one.

The Panthers, admittedly a very good team, put Tech on the deck with a dominant first-half performance and then kept the Red Raiders at arm's length in the second to secure an easy 76-53 victory.

Ordinarily, one can point to runs, or at least turning points, in which one team gained a decisive advantage over the other. But in the case of Pittsburgh versus Texas Tech, the entire first half was one long run for the Panthers. Pitt gained its first double-digit lead with 12:34 to play on a layup by Jamel Artis. With 5:55 to play, the Panthers extended the lead to 20 on a Cameron Wright free throw. The lead ballooned to 26 on a three-point jumper by Josh Newkirk with 4:43 to play, and stood at 23 when the teams went to their locker rooms at the break.

From an individual standpoint, Jaye Crockett was Tech's lone bright spot. He poured in 19 points and pulled down seven boards, and truthfully was the only Red Raider who looked like he belonged on the court with Pitt. Crockett's quickness and explosiveness mirrored what the Panthers have at every position.

One must give credit to the Pittsburgh defense for holding Tech to 38-percent shooting. The Panthers, for as long as anybody cares to remember, have maintained a proud reputation and tradition for playing some of the stickiest defense to be seen at the collegiate level. And it was clear that the long arms of the Panthers bothered the Red Raider shooters.

That said, Tech has shown a tendency to miss easy shots against softer competition than what Pitt offered, but was able to overcome the weakness by superiority in other areas. But those missed chippies doomed the Red Raiders against Pittsburgh. Jordan Tolbert bricked layups, and Robert Turner missed every runner and floater in the lane that he attempted. Turner went 0 for eight, which makes him one for 15 in the last two games.

The Red Raiders actually held their own against the Panthers on the boards, trailing by only three in that category at game's end. But Tech was continually scrambling on the defensive end, as Pitt's splendid ball-movement distorted Tech's positioning and resulted in easy, open shots. Pittsburgh wound up shooting 48 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc.

Like Alabama, which defeated Tech by a dozen, this game was a barometer for Tubby Smith's Red Raiders. And the readings suggest that Tech had better make huge strides quickly if they want to exceed their ninth place Big 12 projection. On a night when a 3-2 Cleveland State team that had lost to San Francisco and Eastern Michigan threw a major scare into Kentucky in Lexington, Tech's failure to compete against Pitt was disappointing. But the Red Raiders immediately get another shot to prove that they can play with the big boys; on Tuesday night they will play the loser of the Stanford-Houston game. Either of those teams will present a challenge comparable to Pitt.

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