Men’s basketball takeaways | Diaz Graham brothers shine, offense needs a spark


AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Iowa State forward Hason Ward, left, forward Aljaz Kunc vie for the ball with Pittsburgh forward Jorge Diaz Graham during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C.

By Jack Markowski, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball secured its second consecutive NCAA tournament victory on Friday in a 59-41 blowout against Iowa State. It’s the first time the Panthers earned two wins in the tournaments since 2009

Here are three takeaways from the contest. 

Diaz Graham brothers turn in exceptional performances

First-year forwards Guillermo and Jorge Diaz Graham were question marks coming into the season. Little was known about the twin brothers and their prospective roles or impact on a crowded roster. However, after a couple of injuries, both Guillermo and Jorge were elevated in the rotation and tasked with playing regular minutes for the Panthers. Both brothers stepped up and produced off the bench all season, but their presence was more apparent than ever against Iowa State. 

Guillermo Diaz Graham received his second-straight start on Friday and built off of his solid performance against Mississippi State with another against the Cyclones. He recorded nine points on three of five shooting, while also putting up eight rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of playing time. Jorge Diaz Graham played just 10 minutes, but still finished with five rebounds and added two points of his own. 

The Diaz Graham twins were tossed into an uncomfortable situation at the beginning of the year, as it appeared that they weren’t quite ready for college basketball. They weathered the storm though, and consistently improved while playing a role for Pitt’s best team in recent memory. Both the brothers are key parts of the Panthers’ future and are also integral to the team’s current tournament run. 

Pitt’s offense needs a spark

A majority of the Panthers’ success so far this season has revolved around their offense. They finished within the top five for points per game in the ACC and were among the leaders in the nation for three-pointers per game. That level of production hasn’t followed Pitt into the tournament despite their winning ways, which could cause issues moving forward

The Panthers shot 25 of 29 from the free throw line against Iowa State, accounting for a large portion of their 59 points in the game. But they otherwise struggled, shooting at a 34.1% rate from the field and a 31.6% rate from deep. Junior forward Blake Hinson, along with graduate student guards Greg Elliott and Jamarius Burton, shot a combined three of 20 as well, which isn’t a recipe for success. Pitt also turned the ball over 15 times, resulting in 10 points for the Cyclones on the other end. 

Pitt’s recent struggles scoring the ball isn’t a total surprise, considering that Mississippi State and Iowa State boasted two of the best defenses in the nation. Regardless, the Panthers’ shooting numbers during the cold stretch are remarkably low and raise serious concerns about their efficiency in the near future. Perhaps the offense can recapture some magic, but for now they’re left looking for a spark.

Defensive effort is key one again for Panthers 

While Pitt’s offense is working through some issues, its defense has stepped up. The Panthers were faltering on that end entering the tournament, but turned things around with a good showing against Mississippi State. The question for Pitt following that game was whether or not they could parlay it into a trend rather than a one-off performance, and they did exactly that on Friday. 

The Panthers held Iowa State to 41 points and a 23.3% shooting percentage from the field in one of the worst offensive showings in recent NCAA tournament history. The Cyclones also shot two of 22 from behind the arc and got just one point from their bench. Pitt’s focus was on compressing and packing the paint, making Iowa State settle for threes and bad shots inside. 

Pitt’s newfound defensive prowess is a combination of head coach Jeff Capel and the rest of the staff crafting strong game plans, while the players execute it flawlessly. If the Panthers can carry their momentum on that end of the floor with them into Sunday’s game, they should feel pretty good about their chances. 

Pitt will face No. 3 Xavier in the Round of 32 on Sunday. Tipoff is at 12:10 p.m. and coverage will air on CBS.