ACC Basketball

NCAA Tournament Preview: Pittsburgh Pathers

Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Munching on cupcakes is one way to earn a bunch of wins, but it doesn’t guarantee a team will get an invite to the big dance. Pittsburgh nearly learned that the hard way. The Panthers suffered only one preseason defeat, mid-December, falling to Cincinnati when Titus Rubles’ put a rebound back in the basket with 4.2 seconds left in the game. Besides the Bearcats, the only other real tournament team the Panthers faced was Stanford, who they beat on a neutral site (sorry, I’m not counting Caly Poly). The reality was, the schedule allowed coach Jamie Dixon to play with his lineup, while they kept winning. All and all, Pitt used 10 different starting lineups.

Once into ACC play, the wins kept coming and against better, but arguable still inferior foes, although one was a road win against N.C. State that looks much better now that the Wolfpack have played their way into the NCAA tournament field of 64. Yet, after a 5-point loss to undefeated Syracuse and then a pair of loses at home to Duke and Virginia a week later, despite having 18 wins, there was real talk about this team not having the kind of resume that would impress the committee.

After barely escaping with overtime wins against last place teams Miami and Virginia Tech, the Panthers would end up dropping four of their last seven. All three teams came against teams below them in the standings, while all four loses came to teams ranked ahead of them or even. At 23-8, Pittsburgh’s best win was still against the Cardinals of Stanford back in December.

In the ACC tournament, they took care of business as expected against Wake Forest in the second round, but the following day, they finally pulled off an upset, taking down North Carolina in the quarterfinals, before losing to the eventual champs, Virginia, in the semifinals. That one win against UNC was enough to get them into the big dance.

PROJECTED STARTING LINE:
PG – James Robinson, 6-3 200 So
SG – Lamar Patterson, 6-5 225 Sr
SF – Cameron Wright, 6-4 205 Jr
PF – Michael Young, 6-8 245 Fr
C – Talib Zanna, 6-9 230 Jr

 

KEY RESERVES:
Josh Newkirk, 6-1 185 Fr
Jamel Artis, 6-7 230 Fr
Chris Jones, 6-6 213 Fr
Derrick Randall, 6-9 240 Jr

The Panthers are led by Lamar Patterson, a do-everything wing who led the team in points (17.6) and assists (4.3) and is second in rebounds (4.8). He’s versatile, capable of both shooting it from deep or putting it on the floor and creating his own shot. Cameron Wright is another wing who can do some damage off the dribble, but he’s not the outside shooter that Patterson is (he’s hit just 9 three-point shots all season long). At the point, James Robinson doesn’t pack a punch when it comes to scoring, but he’s a senior and a leader, who does the little things, including rebounding.

However, Pittsburgh can only really be successful if they get production in the middle. Michael Young is strong, but raw. He’s not the best at putting the ball in the basket (40% from the floor), but he’s certainly a space eater inside (third on the team in rebounds). Yet, the man inside that matters is Talib Zanna. He’s been an absolute beast lately, pulling down at least nine boards in seven of his last eight games, including 21 in Pitt’s win over North Carolina. The key is, when he’s crashing the board, he’s also scoring since almost all of his points come from around the rim. He’s hit over 50% of his shots in six straight games, putting in 58% of his shots on the season.

OUTLOOK: It’s tough to figure out Pittsburgh. They are 18th in offensive efficiency and 34th in defensive efficiency. Solid numbers, but the reality is, this is a team that is 4-8 against tournament teams and that includes four home loses. Good teams aren’t suppose to lose four home games. If you ignore the loses and just went with an eye test, this team has certainly improved. They are more balanced now then they were at the beginning of the year and the heavy-freshmen bench has grown up as the season goes along. While they’re good enough to probably beat Colorado in the round of 64, they’re going to need to play the game of their lives to knock off the number one overall team, the Florida Gators.

WHY THEY’LL FALL SHORT OF THE FINAL FOUR
When the game is on the line, this is a team that has faltered time and time again. When faced with a solid defensive team, Pittsburgh has gotten flustered and frustrated, putting up bad shot after bad shot, forgetting assignments on the defensive end.

WHY THEY’LL ADVANCE TO THE FINAL FOUR
When Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna are playing their best ball, the pair are unstoppable. Patterson can get hot from deep and Zanna can own the glass. When these two are rolling, the rest of the team feeds off them. Robinson and Wright attack the rim and the freshmen deliver valuable minutes off the bench.

MY WORTHLESS PREDICTION: 
I’m not even positive they’ll beat Colorado, so they won’t beat Florida in the Round of 32.

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