Commentary

What's wrong with Pittsburgh?

With a superb offense, problems for the Panthers come solely on defense

Updated: December 26, 2011, 3:23 PM ET
By John Gasaway | Special to ESPN Insider
GibbsRich Kane/Icon SMIAshton Gibbs does a lot for Pitt, but he alone can't overcome poor team defense.

In theory, it's too soon to worry about the Pittsburgh Panthers. The calendar still reads 2011, after all, and at the risk of using an old-fashioned plain-vanilla metric, the Panthers have won 11 of their 13 games. (Ask the Butler Bulldogs or Memphis Tigers if they'd take that record.) Besides, even in a worst-case scenario, coach Jamie Dixon's team appears on track to reach its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament, far and away the longest such streak in the Big East.

But the thing about college basketball is that it doesn't take place "in theory." In this sport, teams are judged against expectations, and on that basis Pitt has been one of the biggest disappointments of the young season. The Panthers were ranked No. 11 in the preseason, but after Pitt's 59-54 home loss to Wagner on Friday, Dixon's team is looking less like one of the 11 best teams in the nation and more like one of the 11-best teams in the Big East.

True, the Panthers have had to overcome injuries and off-court distractions. Starting point guard Travon Woodall has missed six games due to a groin strain and abdominal tear, and Dixon has already seen another starter, freshman Khem Birch, leave the team (see below). Yet even allowing for such factors, you can make a case that this team has been a surprise, and not in a good way.