Men’s basketball takeaways | Elliott’s offensive presence is irreplaceable, Panthers’ defense is inconsistent


Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times via AP

Virginia Tech’s Sean Pedulla (3) shoots a 3-point basket over Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball split their two ACC games last week, defeating Boston College 77-58 before losing on the road to Virginia Tech 79-72. The Panthers now stand at 19-8 overall, with a 12-4 record in conference play. 

Here are three takeaways from the two contests.

Elliott’s offensive presence is irreplaceable for Panthers

Graduate student guard Greg Elliott‘s arrival at Pitt last offseason flew under the radar among a bevy of other additions to the Panthers’ roster. Elliott, who spent four seasons at Marquette, profiled as a catch-and-shoot option that could help turn around Pitt’s shooting woes from the season prior. He has accomplished just that and more, and is one of the Panthers’ most consistent all-around weapons in the process. 

Elliott finished second on the team in scoring against Boston College with 14 points. He shot four of nine from the field, with all but one of his attempts coming from three-point range. 

Elliott turned in yet another good performance against Virginia Tech despite a disappointing showing from Pitt as a whole. He was one of four Panthers that finished with double-digits as he recorded 11 points on four of eight shooting. 

Two of the main reasons why Pitt’s offense is as successful as it is this season is due to their guard play and positive results from behind the arc. Elliott’s contributions embody both of those factors, as he has started all 27 games in the backcourt for the Panthers this season while shooting at a 42.4% rate from deep. His efficiency and consistency, as evidenced by him finishing with double-digits in six of his last seven games, elevates Pitt on a nightly basis offensively.

Cummings’ playmaking boosts Pitt’s offense  

Graduate student guard Nelly Cummings’ style of play before joining the Panthers centered around being a volume shooter. He attempted 12.5 field goal attempts per game in the 2021-22 season while at Colgate, but that number sits at 9.1 per game so far this season. Cumming’s decrease in offensive output is largely due to him stepping into more of a playmaking role as he runs the offense, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. 

Cummings led all players in assists by a wide margin against Boston College with eight. That number tied his season-high total that he set against Virginia on Jan. 3. He also scored 11 points on four of eight shooting from the field. 

Cummings continued showcasing his playmaking abilities against Virginia Tech. He recorded eight assists once again while no other Panther finished with more than one. His passing and court vision kept Pitt close with the Hokies in a game where the Panthers could not get much going on offense. 

Cummings is averaging 10.5 points per game and still contributing as a scorer for Pitt. That total is his lowest since his first collegiate season, though that’s only one side of the story. He is also averaging 4.6 assists per game, which is the highest of his career and is currently tied for fifth in the ACC. Cummings isn’t the same player he was over the past couple of seasons, but the Panthers are better off because of his development as a playmaker. 

Panthers’ defense is inconsistent

Pitt’s defense is among the best in the ACC, ranking third in opponent points per game at 67.9. However, the Panthers’ lack of consistency on that end of the floor raises some questions and concerns as the season hits the home stretch. 

Pitt put together a complete defensive performance against Boston College, limiting the Eagles to 58 points on 33.9% shooting. The Panthers forced 14 turnovers and came away with five blocks as well, but it’s worth mentioning that Boston College owns one of the worst offenses in the conference. 

On the flip side, Pitt struggled mightily against Virginia Tech. The Hokies shot 55.6% overall and 47.4% from deep while the Panthers sent them to the free throw line 28 times. Pitt never seemed like they were in rhythm and looked uncomfortable for most of the contest. 

The Panthers’ defense is simply volatile, which isn’t a great sign for a team that looks primed for the NCAA tournament. This isn’t a recent development either, as they held two of the top offenses in the league in Miami and North Carolina to under 70 points before allowing Florida State to score 75 points against them. 

Figuring out the issue is integral for Pitt, as their inconsistency on the defensive end may end up holding them back in a crucial spot down the line. 

Pitt will continue its ACC schedule against Georgia Tech at home on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.