Preview | The Panthers head into consequential ACC tournament game against Georgia Tech


AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Pittsburgh forward Jorge Diaz Graham (31) shoots against Miami forward Norchad Omier (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Coral Gables, Fla.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball (21-10, 14-6 ACC) sits at a crossroads heading into their first ACC tournament game on Wednesday against Georgia Tech (15-17, 6-14 ACC). The Panthers are on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble as of now, but a slip up against the Yellow Jackets could eliminate their chances of reaching the dance. 

Pitt sat alone in first place in the ACC with two games left, but they let multiple clinching opportunities pass them by, with losses to Notre Dame and Miami. Now, the No. 5 seeded Panthers must regroup and finish their season strong so they can feel good about their chances heading into Selection Sunday. 

No. 13 seed Georgia Tech defeated No. 12 seed  Florida State 61-60 on Tuesday. The Yellow Jackets took the lead with less than a second left on a free throw from senior forward Ja’Von Franklin. Sophomore guard Miles Kelly led the team in scoring with 21 points on seven out 15 shooting. Franklin and sophomore guard Dallan “Deebo” Coleman both finished with double-digit point totals as well. 

Pitt and Georgia Tech faced each other twice during the regular season. The Panthers won both games, defeating the Yellow Jackets 71-60 on Jan. 14 and 76-68 on Feb. 21. Four Panthers finished with double-digits in the first meeting, with redshirt senior guard Nike Sibande recording a season-high 21 points. In the second meeting, a banged-up Georgia Tech squad held a lead multiple times during the second half before the Panthers eventually pulled away.

The Yellow Jackets’ perimeter defense is one of their biggest strengths heading into Wednesday’s game. Georgia Tech led the ACC in opponent three-point percentage at 29.9% and were again strong in that area against Florida State, holding them to six out of 23 shooting from deep. 

In their two prior matchups this season Pitt struggled against Georgia Tech from behind the arc. The Panthers rely heavily on scoring from three, making their matchup against the Yellow Jackets an unfavorable one.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia Tech’s offense has its fair share of shortcomings. They owned the second-lowest field goal percentage in the conference and are tied for the fourth-lowest points per game total. Despite their struggles, theYellow Jackets’ backcourt is deep, as five of the team’s guards averaged at least eight points per game this season

The Panthers’ defensive focus should center around that backcourt, specifically Kelly and senior guard Lance Terry. The guards were the Yellow Jackets’ two leading scorers this season and can hurt a defense in multiple areas of the game. 

Kelly is coming off of a stellar performance on Tuesday and has scored 20 or more points in four of his last five games. Terry, on the other hand, recorded double-digit points in six of his last seven games and shoots over 40% from deep. 

Pitt uncharacteristically struggled on the glass against Miami, losing the rebounding battle 42 to 20. They allowed 14 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points as a result, which was the difference-maker in such a close game. The Panthers cannot let Georgia Tech, who ranks fifth in the ACC in rebounding, gain an edge in that area of the game and afford themselves consistent second-chance opportunities. 

The Panthers’ offense would benefit from getting graduate student guard Greg Elliott back into rhythm as well. Elliott has shot just one of eight from the field and zero of five deep over his last two games, which is a sharp contrast from his 44.3% shooting percentage and average of 2.3 makes from beyond the arc. Considering that Pitt relies so heavily on its three-point shooting, getting Elliott back into the mix is a huge priority moving forward. 

The Panthers are heading into one of the program’s most consequential games in recent years on Wednesday. A win, and they likely clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since 2016. A loss, and suddenly they would put themselves in serious danger of missing the tournament after a magical season filled with memorable moments. It all comes to a head against Georgia Tech, and ultimately will tell us a lot about what both this Pitt team is made of and destined for.

Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and coverage will air on ESPN.