Time to give a small dollop of respect to Pittsburgh, which got out to a 17-2 deficit at North Carolina State Saturday. Then what happened? The Panthers outscored the Wolfpack 72-45 the rest of the game and won 74-62.
It was the first win in ACC play for Pitt, which of course is new to the league this season. And of all the teams ranked in the top 25 this season -- seriously, all 40-ish that have found their way into the polls at some point to another -- no group has been on the wrong side of skepticism as much as Jamie Dixon's Panthers. The doubt was (and maybe still is) warranted.
Now at 13-1 with its next to home games against Maryland and Wake Forest, two teams with 19 wins total, but zero of those Ws against teams ranked in the top 70 of KenPom.com, Pittsburgh is set up to to have it best start, record-wise, since the team got to 19-1 in 2010-11. (In a few ways, that group reminds of this one -- and also had a lousy non-conference schedule.)
This season, the Panthers' sole defeat stems from a hideous Dec. 17 loss, 44-43, to Cincinnati. But it was by just one point, and on the heels of Cincinnati's win at Memphis Saturday, it's looking better by the week. With Lamar Patterson (22 points on Saturday) looking like a Second Team ACC player as of now and Talib Zanna being a productive, reliable force in the paint, Pitt has the look of a top 25 team -- as of now. The style in which the team won this afternoon must be noted.
The Panthers did work in the color on Saturday, getting 26 points in the paint in the second half, wrestling control away from Mark Gottfried's inconsistent team. This seems like a typical Pitt team again. Nothing outstanding, but not easily defeated. The problem is, we're still not sure of what Pittsburgh ceiling is; part of that is the schedule, part of that is the strength of the ACC, which still remains a mystery.
Conference season gives most teams answers to larger questions about the state of the program. I think the upcoming month is as vital to Pitt as any other NCAA hopeful. At this point in the season there's a difference between resume and what a team really is. The Panthers are floating between the two, and there's reason for optimism.