Preview | The Panthers look to defeat Louisville and Florida State, rise up ACC rankings


Colleen Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande (22) battles for the ball during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Florida State on Jan 21.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball (16-7, 9-3 ACC) currently sits in a comfortable position in relation to their status as NCAA Tournament hopefuls. Recent wins against Miami and North Carolina put the Panthers in prime position for a tournament bid with a month left in the regular season. But there is still work to do. 

Pitt faces Louisville and Florida State this week in a pair of games against teams positioned in the bottom half of the ACC standings. But, for as much as the Panthers have set themselves up for success, it could just as easily crumble with a loss or two in the upcoming days. 

Louisville, who will play Pitt on Tuesday night, is in the midst of a disastrous campaign. The Cardinals sit at 3-20, with a 1-11 record in the conference. 

Louisville holds the lowest points per game total in the conference at 63.4, while allowing the second-most points per game to their opponents at 74.7. Furthermore, the Cardinals held an opponent to under 70 points just once in conference play, which occurred in their lone ACC win against Georgia Tech on Feb. 1. 

Louisville’s metrics aren’t favorable either, as they rank No. 294 overall in KenPom’s ratings and No. 328 in NET ratings, both of which come in last among Power Five schools. The Cardinals also have not recorded a non-quadrant 4 win this season, signaling that their victories were due to weaker competition. 

Pitt won the first matchup against the Cardinals 75-54 on Jan. 18. Graduate student guard Greg Elliott led the Panthers in scoring with 23 points. Meanwhile, senior guard El Ellis, who is the only player on Louisville’s roster averaging double-digits, paced the Cardinals with 19 points. Pitt capitalized off a weak offensive performance from the Cardinals, limiting Louisville to a 33.9% shooting percentage from the field, as well as shooting 41.2% from deep. 

The Panthers own a clear talent advantage in Tuesday’s game, but they still can’t let their guard down against a conference opponent and let the contest enter “trap game” territory. Pitt’s focus should turn to forcing turnovers against a Louisville team that is careless with the ball. Additionally, limiting second-chance opportunities for the Cardinals is an important step in ensuring that they leave with a win. 

Pitt will then travel to Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday for a test against the Seminoles. Pitt hasn’t forgotten about its first meeting with Florida State, when the Seminoles upset the Panthers 71-64 on the back of 50% shooting from three-point range. The loss is one of very few blemishes on Pitt’s resumé, but they can exact revenge on Saturday in Tallahassee. 

Florida State’s backcourt is extraordinarily deep, as five of its top six scorers are guards and four of them average double-digits. Sophomore guard Matthew Cleveland has emerged as a difference-maker, as he is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Junior guard Darin Green Jr., who scored 24 points on five for eight shooting from deep in their previous contest, will require extra attention from the Panthers’ defense.

The Seminoles’ size and length is a defining trait of their roster, but they are not particularly apt on the boards. They average the second-lowest rebound total in the ACC, in addition to allowing the third-most most rebounds against per game, providing Pitt with a favorable matchup as one of the conference’s better rebounding teams. 

The Panthers’ game plan against Florida State should revolve around the perimeter once again. Pitt shot just 25% from behind the arc the first time the two teams played, but the Seminoles’ opponents have shot at a 36.7% clip from deep. Elliott and junior forward Blake Hinson have an opportunity for a big day as a result, but the Panthers are going to need contributions from around the roster to close it out in the end. 

Another potential reason for optimism on Pitt’s end is that Florida State owns the worst defense in the ACC, allowing 75.3 points per game. Considering that the Panthers lowest scoring total in conference play came against the Seminoles, regression to the mean is an appropriate prediction for Saturday’s contest. 

The Panthers have positioned themselves favorably heading into the home stretch of their conference schedule. They have a great chance to boost their record and stature, while continuing to build momentum. But they can’t get too ahead of themselves. Both Louisville and Florida State, despite what their records say, are capable of turning in a winning performance at a time when Pitt cannot slip up.