Pitt’s win on the surface looked like nothing more than a close win to a mediocre team, but in reality, it was a bit win for the team.
The Panthers were playing without starting point guard, Tray Woodall. You could even arguably make an outside case that Woodall has been the team’s best player thus far this year. He is the team’s second leading scorer behind Ashton Gibbs. But while Gibbs averages 19 points to his 14, Woodall has shot better than 50% from the field while Gibbs has struggled hitting less than 40% of his attempts. Woodall also leads the team in assists with more than eight per game and before his injury, was on pace to threaten the school’s single-season record.
In his place, Pitt started freshman Cameron Wright and along with Khem Birch, Jamie Dixon started two first-year players.
The game was also at Tennessee – a tough place to play in recent years.
Pitt didn’t look great in this game offensively, hitting only 42% of their shots. But the Panthers did something they couldn’t do against Duquesne earlier this week – take care of the ball. Pitt turned the ball over only six times and that was a big reason they were able to win the game.
The Panthers’ bench also outscored the Vols’, 17-6. Leading Tennessee’s meager bench effort, ironically, was Dwight Miller (four points) – a former Pitt player who transferred.
Picking up a win against Tennessee was big. This game kicked off a three game non-conference stretch including the Vols, VMI, and Oklahoma State. Pitt should be the favorite over the next two games, but shouldn’t look past either team. VMI probably won’t give Pitt too much trouble, but they’re one of the nation’s highest scoring teams, averaging nearly 85 points a game. The Panthers then face a respectable Oklahoma State team in Madison Square Garden next weekend. Getting a road win to kick off this stretch should help the team’s confidence as they prepare to play several games without the injured Woodall.
For more on Pitt basketball, check out SB Nation Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.