Preview | Pitt looks to continue tournament run against Iowa State


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Pitt band members celebrate during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Boston College on Tuesday night.

By Matthew Scabilloni, Staff Writer

Following Pitt’s nail-biting 60-59 win over Mississippi State in the First Four, the Panthers are headed back to Greensboro, North Carolina. The Panthers are set to tip off in the Round of 64 against the No. 6 seed of the Midwest Region, Iowa State.

These teams are battling it out for their right to advance into the Round of 32, and play the winner of the Xavier vs. Kennesaw State game. However, it’s not an easy path for the Panthers or Cyclones. 

The Panthers got themselves to this point into the postseason, in large part, due to their dominant backcourt. Pitt’s foursome of graduate student guards in Jamarius Burton, Nelly Cummings, Greg Elliott and Nike Sibande together average 45.4 points, 11.6 assists and 15.1 rebounds per game.

If the saying “guards win in March” is true, then Pitt has what it takes to go far in the tournament.  

Similarly, the Cyclones also were able to get to this point into the postseason by having a great backcourt. Iowa State, throughout the season, used a trio of senior guards in Jaren Holmes, Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill along with help from first-year guard Tamin Lipsey. 

But on March 1, T.J. Otzelberger — Iowa State’s Head Coach — announced that Grill was dismissed from the team due to “a failure to meet program expectations.” 

Grill’s departure now leaves the Iowa State backcourt with the trio of Holmes, Kalscheur and Lipsey, who together average 33.7 points, 9.4 assists and 10 rebounds per game.  Expect better numbers from these three on game day, since they are taking Grill’s minutes. 

But Guards aren’t the only way to win in March and both teams get winning production from their frontcourts as well.

Pitt’s main production from the frontcourt is Hinson — a former Cyclone. Hinston now has a shot to show his former team just how much he’s improved at Pitt. On the season, Hinson averages 15.5 points, 1.2 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game. Expect Hinson to reach these types of numbers or better against his former team.

The other production Pitt gets from the frontcourt is from sophomore center Federiko Federiko, who missed the First Four game due to injury. Federiko is a huge asset to the Panthers and someone the Panthers need to keep on advancing. On the season, Federiko averages seven points, 0.5 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game.  

If Federiko is not healthy in time for Iowa State on Friday, the Panthers will need to yet again lean on the not-so-broad shoulders of first-year forward Guillermo Diaz Graham, who averaged just 11 minutes per game in the regular season. Diaz Graham would now need to play roughly 35 minutes of another postseason game. 

But Diaz Graham did not seem afraid of the moment on Tuesday, with the game-winning block on star Mississippi State Forward Tolu Smith.  

The Cyclones’ production from their frontcourt comes from a foursome, who all split minutes. The frontcourt foursome of Seniors Osun Osunniyi, Aljaz Kunc, Tre King and Robert Jones, who together average 27.2 points, 3.6 assists and 16.1 rebounds per game. None of these players post numbers that jump off the screen for themselves, but they all are key pieces for Iowa State.

Offense is a great thing to have in March and these teams both possess capable offenses. But, in the end, defense wins championships. So, how do these teams’ defenses stack up

Pitt allowed 70.1 points per game and ended the season on a very rough defensive stretch, allowing 85 points per game in their five games before the First Four game.

Although Pitt had the five game rough defensive stretch, the defense showed up against Mississippi State, allowing only 59 points when the Bulldogs averaged 65.9 points per game.

Iowa State allows 62.6 points per game and played solid defensively throughout the season. The most points the Cyclones allowed in a non-overtime game this season was 78 against Missouri.

So, what are five ways Pitt can win this game and advance into the Round of 32? 

  1. Scoring 70 points or more. Iowa State is 3-8 on the year when allowing 70 or more and cracking that is vital in beating the Cyclones. 
  2. Assisting 13 or more Pitt baskets, which is 0.6 over the team’s season average. Pitt is 16-1 when they have 13 or more assists, with their only loss coming against Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. 
  3. Only allowing Iowa State to score 70 or less points. In games Pitt allows 70 or less points, the Panthers are a perfect 16-0. 
  4. Limiting second chance points for Iowa State. Pitt has to get defensive rebounds. Without Federiko against Mississippi State, Pitt allowed 15 offensive rebounds. That can’t happen again. Pitt needs to get rebounds.
  5. Hinston needs a big game against his former team. Revenge is sweet and there’s no better time to get some revenge against your old team than in the Big Dance. 

Whatever happens in this game, there’s one thing all Pitt fans should agree with — time to say, “We are sorry, Jeff Capel.”

But it’s not time for Panther fans to think about their apology just yet. Instead, it’s time to think about a potential Cinderella run with Capel and the first Pitt basketball team to make the tournament since 2016. 

Fans can watch Pitt continue their dance in the Round of 64 against Iowa State on Friday at  3:10 p.m. on TruTV.