3 reasons Pitt might be fun to watch in ACC Tournament
The ACC is loaded with talented teams, with five of them ranked among the top 15 in the Associated Press poll and three — Virginia, North Carolina and Duke — legit Final Four hopefuls.
Guess what? Pitt won’t meet any of those five if it’s fortunate enough to play two games in the ACC Tournament that opens Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.
Is that a reason to feel good about Pitt’s chances to reach the ACC quarterfinals?
Maybe not, but here are some facts:
Pitt opens against Boston College (14-16) at 7 p.m. Tuesday and would play Syracuse (19-12) in the second round Wednesday. BC defeated Pitt, 66-57, but has lost nine of its past 12 games, including a 73-47 home loss to N.C. State on Saturday. The Orange beat Pitt twice, but they are entering the tournament as losers of six of their past nine.
Pitt, of course, is on a one-game winning streak after losing 13 in a row, so let’s not get carried away with optimism.
But here are three reasons Pitt could put up a respectable fight in Charlotte:
1. Pitt usually keeps it close
After the Notre Dame game, coach Jeff Capel pointed to only five ACC games (Clemson twice, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia) in which Pitt was thoroughly beaten. In all others, the Panthers needed two or three fruitful possessions at the end to have a chance to change the outcome.
That might have been a lot to ask of a young team, but Pitt did find a way against Notre Dame (thanks, in large part, to the Irish missing three shots in the final 40 seconds).
“It was good to see us win a close game,” Capel said. “We’ve lost a lot of them. It was good to see us be able to finish, especially in the face of some adversity.”
Pitt must get a lift from that experience, or it will be one-and-done for the second year in a row.
2. ‘D’ looks sharp, together
It was only one game against the ACC’s last-place team, but Pitt held Notre Dame to 32.7 percent shooting from the field.
That was most evident in how the Panthers handled John Mooney, the Irish’s best player. Mooney (6-foot-9, 242 pounds) was averaging 14.4 points and shooting 47.9 percent.
Against Pitt, he was 1 for 11 and scored just four points.
Boston College guard Ky Bowman will present a different challenge with a 19.2 scoring average, but he missed 12 of 16 shots against Pitt in February.
3. Johnson getting help
Johnson is Pitt’s all-time leading scorer among freshmen (485 points), but in four of the past five games, two other players claimed high-scoring honors.
Eventually, Johnson could be standing among Pitt’s all-time great guards, but he can’t resurrect the program alone.
Jared Wilson-Frame is shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in his past 14 games. Trey McGowens led Pitt with 16 points against Notre Dame, and Capel said he saw that confident look return to his freshman’s eyes. Sidy N’Dir hit his first 3-pointer since Feb. 5 after an 0-for-20 slide.
Can those players help Johnson lead Pitt to two victories this week? Wise guys wouldn’t bet on it, but it might be fun to watch them try.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .