Preview | Pitt men’s basketball looks to finish the regular season strong against No. 16 Miami


AP Photo | Michael Caterina

Pittsburgh’s Nike Sibande (22) is defended by Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in South Bend, Ind.

By Mason Carter, Staff Writer

At the beginning of the season, Panther fans weren’t even imagining Pitt men’s basketball being in the position they are in today. The last game of the season — with the chance of a regular season ACC championship — but more importantly, a possible NCAA tournament-clinching victory. A huge game for not only this team, but for this program and the fans who patiently awaited their return.

The No. 25 Pittsburgh Panthers (21-9,14-5 ACC) head down south to No. 16 Miami (23-6, 14-5 ACC) in the final game of the regular season. With a current three-way tie for first place in the conference, these two contenders get to face off for a first-place in the regular season. The winners will walk away with the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC tournament next week.

Pitt is coming off a disappointing defeat on March 1 to Fighting Irish head coach Michael Breys’ Notre Dame team in the final home game of his career. After earning a spot in the top 25 for the first time in seven years, the No. 25 Panthers came into South Bend, Indiana with high hopes to clinch a share of the regular season title. After a big deficit early, the Panthers fell short in their comeback attempt, leading to their fifth conference loss of the season.

Heading into Miami, the Panthers will face the Hurricanes for the second time this season. An 11-0 run in the last 2:26 of the game capped off an 8-point comeback for the Panthers. Coming into this game, the Hurricanes are 16-1 in home games. However, Miami recently suffered disappointment, losing their last game at home on Feb. 25 to Florida State. Both teams are coming in with chips on their shoulders and a lot to prove.

Pitt will have to play a very solid game on the defensive end, knowing that Miami’s 68 points scored last game will prove hard to replicate. Miami is the No. 1 scoring offense in the ACC, averaging 79.7 points per game. The Hurricanes have multiple prolific scorers, with four current players averaging more than 13 points per game. Miami is led by their dynamic guard trio in junior Isaiah Wong, senior Jordan Miller and sophomore Nijel Pack.

Wong and Miller — who average 16.2 and 15.1 points per game, respectively — are primarily ball-dominant guards looking to score off isolation. When the ball is out of their hands, the Hurricanes like to move the ball around and cut to the basket. 

Sophomore forward Norchad Omier is an underrated star on their offensive side, averaging 14 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He can play around the rim and is capable of creating his own shot and knocking down the three. Pack, the No. 1 targeted recruit in the transfer portal last offseason, is averaging 13.6 points per game, while shooting 41.0% from three.

The Panther’s defense is fifth in the conference in points allowed per game, allowing an average of 69 in each contest. A big bounce-back performance is necessary if the Panthers expect to win this game. 88 points given up to Notre Dame was the most allowed all season for the Panthers and doesn’t reflect their usually solid defensive play. 

Pitt also needs a huge game from their three-point shooting, who struggled mightily last game. The Panthers, who made the most three-pointers in school history this season, shot just 31.8% from behind the arc. Leading scorer junior forward Blake Hinson is looking for a better performance from the three-point line, where he gets most of his scoring. Senior guard Greg Elliott and his stellar 41.7% three-point shooting will need to have a huge game as well. Without the three-pointer, winning for the Panthers becomes a lot more difficult.

Paired with three point shooting, the Panthers will look for their excellent guard play to lead them to victory. Graduate student Jamarius Burton will look to have a huge game. He is currently averaging 15.6 points per game, but he is also the leader of this team. When the Panthers need a shot, he is the player with the ball in his hands. 

It would benefit the Panthers if they could receive solid scoring performances from graduate student guards Nike Sibande and Nelly Cummings. Cummings and Sibande both scored 19 points last game, and a repeat of this performance would put the Panthers in great position.

The Panthers are coming into the biggest game of the season. No matter the outcome, fans are proud of how much this team accomplished this year. However, the Panthers are looking to cross one more checkmark on their list in this magical season.

Tip off is set for 6 p.m. and coverage will air on the ACC Network.