Pitt Men’s Basketball Runs Into The San Diego State Buzzsaw In 74-57 Maui Semifinal Loss


I, along with several other Pitt fans, have wanted Pitt to play tougher nonconference opponents in preparation for NCAA March Madness.

When Pitt was announced for the Maui Invitational, I was excited due to the fact that Pitt could potentially play No. 3 Arizona and / or No. 15 San Diego State.

Last night, I got my wish.

And it was very painful and frustrating to watch.

The San Diego State Aztecs dominated Pitt on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and essentially coasted by the Panthers in the second half of a 74-57 blowout.

For the Aztecs (5-0), freshman guard Trey Kell led the squad with 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting.  Junior forwards Winston Shepard scored 13 and 7 rebounds, and Arizona-transfer junior Angelo Chol chipped in 10 off the bench.

For Pitt (3-2), junior point guard James Robinson had a game-high 17 points, but the rest of the team struggled offensively, as no other Panthers scored in double figures.

The Aztecs set the tone early, jumping to a 15-8 lead 7 minutes in.  Two freshmen for San Diego State, Try Kell and Kevin Zabo, scored 20 first half points, as the Aztecs went into the half with a 39-25 lead.

Pitt didn’t seem to make any adjustments in the second half, as they had no answer for stopping San Diego State or solving the pressure defense.  This game reminded me of the NCAA Tournament last year against Florida, where the Gators imposed their will and Pitt could not punch back.

Two minutes into the second half, a Shepard free throw made it a 20-point game, and then Pitt cut the lead to 13 as true freshman Ryan Luther made a tip-in and three pointer.  Luther, along with other freshman Cameron Johnson both have size and a nice shot, so I expect these two to be important factors for Pitt.

The Aztecs biggest lead was 25, when it was 68-43 at the 4 minute mark.  I, along with other Pitt fans, am not used to seeing Pitt manhandled like this, but I believe the Aztecs are one of the best teams in the country.

To be the best, you need to play the best, so this was an important learning experience for a Pitt team that needs to quickly grow and gel if it wants to compete in the ACC this year.

From watching the game last night, the most alarming trend to me is Pitt’s defense.  The Aztecs had their way, scoring at will inside and out.  Looking at scouting reports, I read that the Aztecs play excellent defense but struggle offensively.

You couldn’t tell the Aztecs were offensively deficient last night.  They shot 58.7% (27 for 46) compared to Pitt’s 37.7% (20 for 53).  Pitt outrebounded the Aztecs 35-21, but the Panthers committed 17 turnovers and were blocked 10 times as San Diego State’s length bothered them.

I think a key defensive and offensive problem for this Pitt team is the lack of a center.  Sophomore forward Michael Young is an excellent player at the 4 spot, but senior center Derrick Randall and junior center Joseph Uchebo are not fitting the role of previous Pitt centers.

Dixon will try Michael Young at center, but I am not sure if this is the best move, as he played some last night.  Young is a perfect power forward in my opinion.  Uchebo (6-foot-11 junior) was pulled early against Chaminade and only played 1 minute last night.

Another problem with Pitt in the early start of this year is the leadership.  The Panthers usually depend on upperclassmen to grow and develop into leaders.  Currently, this team does not have that.  Junior point guard James Robinson is leading the charge, but the core of this team consists of 6 sophomores and 2 freshmen that need to be more assertive.

I just didn’t see emotion and frustration from Pitt last night.  It seemed to me that Pitt just accepted that it was going to be blown out, and this is very uncharacteristic of Pitt basketball teams over the years.

The injury to senior guard Cameron Wright and the full season suspension of junior guard Durand Johnson really hurts this Pitt team for the present, but it should expedite the growth of the sophomore and freshmen core.

There will be frustration and disappointment like we saw last night, BUT we have to remember that San Diego State is a really good, Final Four caliber basketball team.

I will be interested in watching the Aztecs against No. 3 Arizona tonight in the Maui Championship.

Pitt will play the consolation game against Kansas State tonight at 7:30PM.