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Pitt hosts Miami as both teams fight for March Madness spot

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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As March Madness approaches, all eyes turn to Joe Lunardi.

ESPN’s “bracketology” expert, who predicts which teams will make the NCAA Tournament weeks and months before Selection Sunday, updates his rankings after each night’s games.

After Pitt (19-11, 8-8 ACC) lost to Wake Forest on Sunday night 69-66, Lunardi still ranks the Panthers in his “first four out” category. While that still means Lunardi thinks Pitt will miss the tournament, any spot on the bubble is precarious as teams above Pitt can still lose.

Still, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said he wants the team to stay focused, despite losing a late lead at Wake Forest.

“We have to get ready for Miami,” Dixon said after Sunday’s loss. “This is extremely disappointing to be up and not finish it like we were.”

To salvage its tournament chances, Pitt must regroup and prepare to face Miami on Wednesday night, in the Panthers’ final game at the Petersen Events Center this season. Along with Pitt, Lunardi also includes Miami on his tournament bubble as the first team in the “next four out.”

With similar tournament resumés, whichever team loses on Wednesday may have its tournament chances severely diminished.

The Hurricanes (18-11, 8-8 ACC) currently rank No. 70 in RPI, while Pitt ranks No. 49. Miami posts a 2-6 record against the RPI top 50, while Pitt is a comparable 2-7.

CBS Sports analyst Jerry Palm also does not currently include Pitt in his NCAA Tournament projections, citing Sunday’s loss as too much to overcome.

“The Panthers have added a bad loss at Wake Forest to go with losses at Hawaii and Virginia Tech,” Palm said in the ‘bubble watch’ section of his bracket projections. “They really need a quality win away from home, but that will have to come in the conference tournament.”

“We have to get ready for a quick turnaround for our last home game ­­— Senior Night,” Dixon said.

Wednesday’s game will be the final time that senior guard Cameron Wright takes the court at the Petersen Events Center, and, if this game fares like his last outing, his personal performance will not disappoint him.

Against Wake Forest on Sunday, Wright scored 11 points in 36 minutes of work, and he tacked on six assists and five rebounds in the loss.

Wright may match up with Miami’s junior guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, who led Miami with 14.9 and 12.3 points per game, respectively. The Hurricanes also come into Wednesday’s game off of a 73-64 defeat to No. 15 North Carolina on Saturday.

“We’ve put ourselves in a very tough situation to make the dance,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “We’re going to have to probably win out next four games, two in the regular season and two in the [ACC] Tournament.”

However, Pitt may not have to worry about Rodriguez, who Larrañaga said on Tuesday might not play against the Panthers because of a wrist injury.

Without its second-leading scorer, Miami would have to rely on other options, like junior center Tonye Jekiri or sophomore guard Manu Lecomte, who average 8.7 and 7.8 points per game, respectively.

With both teams nearing the end of the regular season facing similar postseason circumstances, Wednesday’s game could be one of desperation, as both team’s tournament aspirations are on the line.

The game tips off at the Petersen Events Center at 8 p.m.

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Pitt hosts Miami as both teams fight for March Madness spot