Virginia had such an easy time with Pitt on Saturday that coach Tony Bennett found time to rest his starters for their quick turnaround game Monday at Syracuse.
Even Jeff Capel used nonscholarship players Anthony Starzynski and Onyebuchi Ezeakudo in Pitt’s second-worst loss of the season, 73-49 to the nation’s second-ranked team.
But Capel will use the last few days of the season as a teaching tool, and Virginia offered the first lesson.
“This is what elite looks like,” he said after the game. “This is what we aspire to get to.”
Capel will make sure his Panthers pay attention because there are opportunities ahead, and they don’t have to wait until next season:
• Get out of last place in the ACC.
• Make a respectable showing in the conference tournament.
Both should matter a great deal to the Panthers. Here are three reasons why:
1. Freshmen have something to prove
It’s been a long season for Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, and some of the residual effects showed Saturday.
Johnson and McGowens each scored three points, with Johnson scoring only on free throws and McGowens attempting one shot inside the 3-point arc. Johnson was averaging 16.5 points.
Both are too talented and too competitive to leave this season in that way. The freshman wall is formidable, and Pitt’s players have hit it hard. They should want to prove it’s not tougher than they are.
2. Winnable games ahead
Pitt (12-17, 2-14) is in last place in the ACC but not without a good chance to escape.
Next up is Miami (12-16, 4-12), which is coming off an 87-57 thrashing at Duke on Saturday. Pitt has the added incentive of trying to end its road-game losing streak at 23.
Pitt’s last home game is next Saturday against Notre Dame (13-16, 3-13), which has lost five in a row.
Is Pitt the worst team in the ACC for the second consecutive season? We’ll find out this week.
If Pitt can win one or both games, maybe they can carry momentum into the ACC Tournament and do better than one-and-done while the rest of the college basketball nation watches.
3. Capel staying positive
Pitt scored fewer than 50 points in consecutive games for the first time since 2012, but Capel didn’t sound discouraged.
“I, actually, thought we did some good things,” he said. “We had good ball movement.”
The problem was finishing. He said he could recall six missed layups during the game.
The reality is Pitt is the 1oth team held below 50 by Virginia this season.
Capel also didn’t assign too much blame to his defense.
“Really good players can make defense look bad,” he said, referencing Virginia’s Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, who combined for 42 points. “I don’t think it was our defense, but they’re really good.”