At least a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title and the top seed in the league tournament will be at stake when No. 25 Pitt battles No. 16 Miami on Saturday night in Coral Gables, Fla.
The Panthers (21-9, 14-5 ACC) and the Hurricanes (23-6, 14-5 ACC) are in a three-way tie with No. 13 Virginia atop the conference standings.
But since both teams own a head-to-head tiebreaker, having each defeated Virginia in their lone matchups this season, the winner of Saturday’s game will be the No. 1 seed even if they finish tied with the Cavaliers, who play last-place Louisville earlier that day.
Miami can finish no lower than the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament even if it loses, earning a bye to the conference quarterfinals. But there’s more at stake for Pitt, which can fall to as low as a No. 5 seed with a loss and subsequently have to play in the second round of the tournament.
Pitt won the previous matchup with Miami 71-68 at home on Jan. 28 after Miami blew an 11-point second-half lead and an eight-point edge with 2:26 to go.
The Hurricanes have had some trouble closing out games at times this season, but they took that to a higher level last Saturday in an 85-84 loss to struggling Florida State. Miami led by 25 early in the second half before the Seminoles pulled off the largest comeback in ACC history, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Matthew Cleveland.
It was Miami’s first loss at home this season in 16 games.
“We played as well as we could in the first half,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “But it appeared to me that to start the second half that our battery died.”
The Hurricanes have had a week to regroup not only for the Panthers but for what they hope is a deep tournament run both in conference and in the NCAA Tournament.
Miami is well aware that can only happen if it can find a way to finish games better.
“We’ve just got to find a way to close out games like this,” Miami guard Jordan Miller said. “There’s no excuse for us losing this game.”
The Hurricanes hope guard Nijel Pack, who missed the FSU game with a “lower extremity” injury, will be back against Pitt.
Pitt’s NCAA tourney resume took a hit on Wednesday night after an 88-81 upset loss at Notre Dame, which was playing inspired basketball in coach Mike Brey’s final home game.
Pitt trailed by as many as 20 in the second half before cutting the Irish’s lead to 84-79 with 38 seconds left. But the Panthers squandered numerous opportunities at the free-throw line, making only 20 of their 36 attempts.
“We just needed a couple things to go our way right there,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “And they didn’t.”
Nike Sibande, Nelly Cummings and Jamarius Burton led the Panthers with 19 points apiece and Blake Hinson had a double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds).
“Defensively, we didn’t do what we can do,” Cummings told reporters. “I think we were ready for the game the same way we’ve been ready for every game. They came out inspired.”
–Field Level Media