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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Can Pitt basketball win a single ACC game?

| Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, 5:48 p.m.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings has words for the referre during the Panthers' game against Syracuse on Jan. 27, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings has words for the referre during the Panthers' game against Syracuse on Jan. 27, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Jared Wilson-Frame steals the ball from Syracuse's Oshae Brissett in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jared Wilson-Frame steals the ball from Syracuse's Oshae Brissett in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Syracuse's Bourama Sidbe (l) and Tyus Battle defend on Pitt's Shamiel Stevenson in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Syracuse's Bourama Sidbe (l) and Tyus Battle defend on Pitt's Shamiel Stevenson in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Terrell Brown dunks on Syracuse's Marek Dolezaj in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Terrell Brown dunks on Syracuse's Marek Dolezaj in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.

Pitt men's basketball has gone through the first half of its conference season without a win. It's 0-9. That's the worst conference start in school history .

Nine games remain.

So, on one hand, Panthers fans can say, “Well, at least there is half a season left to get that elusive conference victory.”

On the other hand, Panthers fans must also be thinking, “My God! There's still half a season left? I can't handle that.”

In the big picture, there's not much difference between Pitt going 1-17 and 0-18. But a winless conference season is an ignominious stigma that's hard to shake.

Just ask Boston College. BC had to live through that in 2015-16 when it went 0-18.

The Eagles (3-5 in the ACC) come to Petersen Events Center on Feb. 13. Wake Forest (1-7 in conference) arrives on Feb. 21.

Pitt closes the 2017-18 slog at Notre Dame against a banged-up Fighting Irish team that is 3-5 in the ACC and could be without star player Bonzie Colson. He hasn't played since Dec. 30. Senior guard Matt Farrell has been in and out of the lineup because of injuries as well.

So all of those contests are winnable games for Kevin Stallings' club. But before our eyes get too big searching for soft spots in the schedule, consider the Panthers' two recent losses to Syracuse.

This is a below-average edition of the Orange. Syracuse is 4-4 in conference play with two of the victories against Pitt. They are Wake Forest's only vanquished opponent. Even that depleted Notre Dame team without Colson and Farrell managed a win against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome a few weeks ago.

Yet twice this month, Pitt failed to beat a mediocre team when it was playing a sub-mediocre brand of ball.

In Game 1 at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 16, Syracuse shot 5 for 18 from 3-point range and had a two-point lead with 10 minutes left.

But the Panthers committed 18 turnovers and had a seven-minute field-goal drought en route to a 59-45 loss.

Syracuse was playing poorly at the time, having lost four in row. Pitt was worse, posting a season-low point total.

In Saturday's rematch, it could be argued Syracuse was just as bad for much of the game.

The Orange shot 22 percent in the first half and 35 percent for the game. Their starting front court was 6 of 26. The team was 3 for 15 from 3-point land.

Yet, the Panthers lost thanks to a field-goal drought of almost nine minutes in the first half and a stretch of 0-for-12 shooting in the second half as they trudged to a 60-55 loss.

Every game, the Panthers appear to be pushing a giant rock up Cardiac Hill. Every game, the rock rolls backward over them.

“We're going to continue to go out there and fight every day and practice hard every day and compete, hopefully, on game night,” Stallings said after the loss Saturday.

It appears the Panthers do compete hard. Unfortunately, they don't ever win.

Unlike last year, it appears the Panthers are in line with the coach and his message. Too bad that never coalesces in a game because they simply aren't good enough.

Will they get good enough to win a conference game before the season ends?

“My barometer has to be how we are progressing. And I think we are getting better,” Stallings said.

In major college and professional sports, it's easy to coldly say “you get what you deserve, and you deserve what you get.”

The box score and the win-loss column don't lie. I get it.

It simply doesn't feel like this Panthers team “deserves” a winless conference season.

Then again, did those Boston College kids in 2015-16?

A look at remainder of the ACC slate suggests opportunities exist if Stallings' bunch really is improving. And maybe some of those opponents actually are getting worse.

My money is on the Panthers winning one or two of their final regular season games against Wake Forest and/or Notre Dame.”

The basketball gods should smile on these Panthers for 40 minutes once this season.

If they don't, expect Pitt's boosters to be frowning on Stallings more than they already are and maybe smiling over a new coach next year.

That might happen anyway regardless of whether or not the Panthers squeak out a win or two.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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