Seven straight losses to open Big East play. A defense allowing opponents well over a point per possession. The usually impenetrable Peterson Events Center and the rowdy fans that inhabit it have borne witness to five -- count 'em, five -- home losses in 21 games. Coming into the season, Pittsburgh was 149-12 in the Pete.
In short, it's been the most un-Pitt of Pitt seasons in 2012, as Jamie Dixon's team, long a haven for underrated prospects blossoming into veteran stalwarts, has suddenly run short on defensive stoppers, ball handlers and glue types. The result has been the Panthers' worst year in memory, a rare plunge for one of the nation's most consistent programs. Needless to say, no Pitt fan is used to this.
Perhaps it's understandable, then, that the Panthers' fans weren't exactly out in force at the Pete on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh got a win -- its first in Big East play, and its first at home since the Dec. 23 loss to Wagner -- 86-74 over Providence. Previously injured point guard Tray Woodall combined with shooting guard Ashton Gibbs for 39 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers in the win. As Pittsburgh news goes in 2012, this is exciting stuff.
Unfortunately, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook, the signs of promise in the Pitt backcourt were witnessed by a startlingly small Peterson Events Center crowd -- a sign of the current tough times in Panthers' program. To wit:
It was hard to believe it was The Pete.
It was sad, actually. [...]
You easily could count the number of people sitting in the 100 courtside seats in the 12 luxury boxes. The Oakland Zoo -- the arena's famed student section -- was only a third full despite tweets earlier in the day urging kids to get off their "arse" and come out to support their struggling team. Eight minutes into the game, ushers still were moving fans down from the upper levels to make the lower bowl full. That might have happened over the years for some of the one-sided non-conference games against the likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Houston Baptist and Maryland-Baltimore County, but I can't remember seeing it at a Big East game. I also can't remember coach Jamie Dixon nearly begging -- OK, lobbying -- for the fans to come out, as he did Jan. 16 after Pitt's loss at Syracuse. He and his program have been much too successful to have to do that.
Cook draws a larger conclusion from this information: Namely, that Pittsburgh is a tough pro sports town, that it's hard to gain traction as a college entity here, and once you have it -- as Pitt hoops obviously has -- all it takes is one losing season before the attendance starts to dry up. That's a shame, but it appears to be the reality. There also seems to be a trend of great student sections simply not showing up these days. Between the Zoo and the Cameron Crazies (who are struggling to get 700 kids in a 1,200-seat section some nights), let's hope this doesn't become a thing. Of course, it's easy to turn up for a big game, or when your team is riding high in the Big East. It's a lot more difficult to show up and support your peers when they're struggling.
But if Pitt ever needed a rocking, rowdy, filled-to-the-rafters Peterson Events Center, that time is now.