Commentary

Pitt hits the skids in Big East

Updated: January 27, 2012, 12:44 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

The fans at the Oakland Zoo are not used to seeing L's posted like this, baby!

It is hard to believe that Pittsburgh has lost eight straight games. We're talking about a team that was highly-regarded in the preseason, that opened this season 11-1 and looked like it was well on its way to an 11th straight trip to the big dance.

The Panthers have hit some hard times. Saturday's loss at home to Louisville was the latest disappointing result. It was not a lack of effort, as Jamie Dixon's kids played hard and with passion. You always expect that from a Dixon-coached team.

The injury to Tray Woodall has been a negative this season. Woodall came back after missing 11 out of 12 games, but he was clearly not himself as he has been bothered by a groin/abdominal injury.

[+] EnlargeJamie Dixon
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPitt lost its ninth game Saturday, matching the highest season loss total of Jamie Dixon's tenure.

Petersen Events Center has been a remarkable home court for the Panthers. They have lost just 17 times there in a decade. The problem is, five of those L's have come this season.

After an early setback against a good Long Beach State team, Pittsburgh appeared back on track. Then came shock city against Danny Hurley's Wagner team and the Panthers have not been the same since. There have been a number of close losses this season, Three point losses to Marquette, Cincinnati and DePaul have been the difference between respectability and the wheels coming off of the tracks.

Pittsburgh lost a lot of talent from last year's squad. The Panthers are missing a good shooter and scorer in Brad Wanamaker, a solid veteran up front in Gilbert Brown and a defensive dynamo is Gary McGhee. Clearly, the youngsters trying to step in have not been able to adequately replace the missing veterans.

Dixon holds the record for most wins by a Division I coach in his first eight seasons with 216. That is an amazing stat, especially when you consider Roy Williams and the legendary Everett Case are tied for second on that list. This has been a difficult stretch for Dixon and his program.

Come on, how many people would have thought the Panthers would be 0-7 in the Big East at this point? This is a good rebounding team, but the outside shooting has been an issue.

Coaches often go through cycles. I remember when Duke went through hardship one season when Coach K was plagued by back problems. Roy Williams saw North Carolina struggle. The bottom line is, it happens.

It is easy when you stand tall and receive the gold trophy. When you are number one and the best in the eyes of people, you are a hero, loved by all. When your back is against the wall and you have to react to adversity, you learn a lot about yourself and your players.

Dixon is a winner, a competitor, a person with great pride in the University of Pittsburgh. He will go out and recruit the type of players needed to turn things around.

Right now, he doesn't have the same talent level as in past years. Working Woodall back in the rotation is a positive, but this Pittsburgh team is not the same as recent clubs.

Pittsburgh has never won less than 10 Big East games under Dixon. That will change this season. Right now, the Panthers desperately need a win to regain their confidence. They worked hard against Louisville Saturday but fell short.

I think you will see Pittsburgh back in the winner's circle soon. There is too much pride in the program.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.