Panther lair – 3-Pointers: Three takeaways from Pitt’s 91-60 loss to Michigan

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The Pitt basketball team lost 91-60 to 20th-ranked Michigan in the opening game of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. After looking up to the challenge early in this game, Pitt couldn’t hang with the Wolverines for a full 40 minutes and completely collapsed after the break.

Pitt now has a 1-2 record on the season. The Panthers return to action tomorrow night for a second game in Brooklyn against Arizona State of VCU. So what stood out in Wednesday’s game? Let’s get into that.

1) Pitt looks uncompetitive for a second game in a row

I don’t think anyone reasonably expected Pitt to get into the game on Wednesday and beat Michigan. Coming off a Sweet 16 run, the Wolverines are ranked 20th in the nation and have one of the most important players in the nation in Hunter Dickinson. It is a more than formidable team. Michigan was the favorite in this game and proved it for 40 minutes.

While I didn’t think Pitt would win, I thought they would look competitive and hold out longer than they did. Pitt made some shots early on and traded baskets for the first 10 minutes. Even after Michigan figured out what it wanted to do offensively, Pitt stuck with it and kept it as a six-point game at halftime.

It was almost the same script as Friday’s game in West Virginia where Pitt fought early on, but a switch flipped and they couldn’t move to the next gear like their opponent did. Michigan was just starting to do what it wanted on offense, which is fine and almost expected since they are a gifted offensive team. It just became clear that Pitt didn’t have the firepower to stay competitive.

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And while Michigan is a talented offensive team, the Panthers left a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the ball. The Wolverines had way too many easy looks and finished with 38 points in the paint.

I think we all know the status of this Pitt basketball program by now. They haven’t been very good lately but at least this team looks deeper and more talented than last year so it’s concerning that this team has run into a second half wall in back-to-back games and seemingly had no way out of it. Again, I don’t think Pitt was expected to win this game, but a 30-point loss wasn’t what many envisioned either. Pitt needs to show signs of improvement throughout this crucial season for Jeff Capel, and these two losses don’t help matters.

2) John Hugley returned to the lineup

The only positive we can take from Wednesday’s game is that Pitt’s best player returned to the lineup. John Hugley deserved the start on Wednesday. He finished with 9 points in 22 minutes of action. The junior center looked tired and was clearly not yet up to pace.

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Hugley suffered a knee injury in the off-season. He was cleared to return to basketball activities last week and had only participated in full contact for a few days. I think the rustiness showed clearly because of those factors. Hugley is a good player and I think he proved that last season, and he will be Pitt’s best option over time. Clearly, Hugley was not himself. He only finished with one rebound and didn’t look overly assertive on offense, although his teammates have to look for him more on the block.

The anticipated matchup between Hugley and Dickinson was a bit of a wash. They are two of the better centers in college basketball and the star player for their respective teams, but the game wasn’t really defined by the two big men.

Dickinson certainly had more of an impact, but he finished with a season low of 11 points. Michigan had a better supporting cast, and while Dickinson’s scoring was limited, he was more active on defense and engaging his teammates.

I think Hugley needs a little more time to become like herself, but at least that process is underway. Pitt needs him to be really good, and I think that will happen, but it just wasn’t there in his first game.

3) Pitt needs more from Nelly Cummings

Nelly Cummings finished with 4 points, 5 assists and 3 turnovers in Wednesday’s loss to Michigan. He left the game late in the second half and went to the dressing room with an apparent injury and did not return to the floor. That is clearly something to definitely watch for tomorrow’s game.

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That said, Cummings needs to give more to this team. Colgate’s veteran transfer has played in back-to-back NCAA tournaments. He was meant to bring a winning mentality to this season and be a steady force in the backcourt, but he got off to a rocky start. Cummings has averaged three turnovers per game so far, shooting just 8-of-24 from the field in these first three games, and only 1-of-10 from three-point range.

Cummings was hampered by foul trouble in last week’s loss to West Virginia, but he avoided that on Wednesday. The head guard just did very little to impress his team. I’m not sure Cummings is expected to be a big scoring threat, but he needs to offer a little more than he’s got while also running the attack and drafting his teammates.

It was clear that Cummings would get help from freshman Dior Johnson in the backcourt, but his arrest changed the outlook for this team and what the point guard position looked like. I think Jeff Capel expects a lot from Nelly Cummings, and he’s had success in Division 1 basketball for a few seasons now. They need to get him started because I think Pitt’s whole operation will improve with better decision making and play from the point guard spot.