NEW YORK — Pittsburgh entered Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic as one of just 15 unbeaten teams in the nation.
Yet because of their soft schedule, the 10-0 Panthers were unranked.
They had a golden opportunity for a quality win on a big stage — on national TV at Madison Square Garden — and to show the voters in the AP poll that they belonged in the Top 25.
Instead, they came out and laid a big egg in a 44-43 loss to former Big East rival Cincinnati.
“Tonight, I feel like I lost the game for us,” said Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, a former St. Benedict’s Prep standout who missed two foul shots with 21.7 seconds left that would’ve given his team a 4-point lead. “Not only missing one, but I missed both of them. I’ll take that one on the chin, it was definitely on me.”
His teammate, Cam Wright, said it wasn’t Patterson’s fault that Cincinnati ended up winning an ugly game on a putback by Titus Rubles in the final seconds.
“It wasn’t Lamar’s fault,” Wright said. “You don’t lose a game on one possession or two free throws.”
It was a bizarre game, to be sure.
Pitt made 19 foul shots, Cincinnati made just 1.
Yet Pitt lost the game, in part because they managed just 11 field goals, one in the final 14:54, and were out-rebounded, 35-27.
Pitt has played 22 halves of basketball this year and scored under 30 points three times. Two of them were against Cincinnati.
“We just didn’t get it done tonight,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We had the right guys shooting the ball and just did not get it done.”
As for the national polls, Pitt has been ranked in 80 percent (173 of 217) of the nation’s last top-25 AP Polls.
Yet their weak schedule has cost them so far.
“Our coaches schedule who they think we should play,” Wright said. “We do not question our character or our coaches’ character, we know who we are and today we were not the University of Pittsburgh playing today and next game we will bounce back.”
The truth is, we probably won’t truly know about this Pitt team until the heart of the ACC schedule. Beginning in mid-January, they play at No. 2 Syracuse Jan. 18, host Clemson Jan. 21, play at Maryland Jan. 25 and host No. 8 Duke Jan. 27.
By then, we should know if Pitt deserves to be ranked or not.