Fans love distance metaphors. “We are so close!” or “Those losers are a long way away.” They seem to be popular when used to describe a team’s chances of winning.
Because I’m a numbers guy and also because I’m a jerk, I am going to say that the University of Pittsburgh Panthers are 285 miles away from their goal—the distance from Pittsburgh to Detroit, the home of the Final Four.
In their journey, they will have to make some stops to answer questions. Here’s where Pitt will make those stops:
600 Yards Away
The distance from sophomore center DeJuan Blair’s house to the Petersen Events Center.
Much has been made about how close Blair lives to Pitt’s campus. With all of his friends and family around to influence him, Pitt fans must hope Blair’s focus remains on the team and not his NBA draft stock.
If Blair decides March is a good time to prove he can shoot a jump shot then Pitt is in trouble. The same can be said about senior forward Sam Young, as both players are borderline first-round picks at this point.
Can the team stay focused on the task at hand?
Four Miles from The Pete
The approximate length from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headquarters to campus. The local and national media are constantly reminding the public of Pitt’s past NCAA tournament failures.
Can the team use this constructively or will the negative energy prove to be destructive?
94'0" from Detroit
The length of a basketball court.
The only team that has flustered Pitt all season has been Louisville and their full court pressure. Can Pitt make the necessary adjustments to handle it?
They are sure to face a team with equal or greater athleticism who can execute the press at some point before the Final Four.
Will the Panthers be able to make the necessary adjustments?
20’9” from Detroit
The length of a three-point shot.
Only 28.5 percent of the Panther’s field goals are three-pointers ranking them 274th in America. Pitt is not an incompetent outside shooting squad, and there are usually at least three Panthers on the court that can hit the trifecta.
However, Pitt lacks a dead-eye three-point shooter that the other team needs to account for. If any player can get hot, it will open up the entire offense.
On the other side of the ball, Pitt’s defensive weakness is on the perimeter. Junior guard Jermaine Dixon is a lock down defender, but the rest of the guards will need to do a better job staying with the outside shooters if Pitt is going to make a Final Four run.
Can Pitt sure up the perimeter on at least one side of the ball?
15'0" from Detroit
The length of a foul shot.
This is Pitt’s biggest weakness. The team as a whole does not do a very good job getting to the free throw line.
Pitt attempts 0.3 free throws for every field goal which is good for 274th in America. Pitt needs to be more aggressive offensively in order to get their opponents in foul trouble.
And when they get there, the team shoots an anemic 65 percent from the charity stripe. If you think executing on the free throws is overrated, ask Memphis how the whole "not hitting foul shots" worked for them last year.
Will the Panthers be any different?
7’3” from Detroit
The length of DeJuan Blair’s wing span.
Can the big man stay out of foul trouble?
For that matter, all of Pitt’s big men need to stay out of foul trouble. Their depth is at the guard positions, not in the frontcourt. Pitt is a different team if their starting frontcourt is not on the floor.
Foul trouble in the tournament could bring an end to the Panthers’ dreams of a national title.