ACC Tournament Preview And Predictions: How Far Can Pitt Go?


Jan 19, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers guard James Robinson (0) shoots against Duke Blue Devils forward Amile Jefferson (21) in their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

I will not remind everyone about the 3-game collapse that Pitt endured, as it essentially popped their NCAA Tournament “Bubble.”

Going into this season, I predicted Pitt to finish 24-8.  I was off, and the season-long suspension of Durand Johnson, whom I figured would be a key scorer, did not help.  Entering the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, Pitt (19-13, 8-10 ACC) dropped to the 10-seed and squares off against the 7-seed NC State (19-12, 10-8 ACC).

Earlier this season, NC State blew Pitt away, winning by 18 points (68-50) in one of the most lopsided games of the Jamie Dixon era.

In order for Pitt to get into the ACC Tournament, they likely would have to reach the finals or win the tourney.

That will not be an easy road.

Pitt squares off against NC State tonight at 7pm.  In the first matchup, the Wolfpack hurt Pitt from the three-point line as well as easily driving to the basket.  In order for Pitt to win this game, I believe the Panthers will need to control Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner, as we have seen guards take over must-win games in many previous tournaments.  I think sophomores Jamel Artis and Michael Young have big games, and junior point guard James Robinson steps up in this one.

Prediction: Pitt 67, NC State 64

Yesterday, 12th-seeded Boston College knocked off 13th-seeded Georgia Tech 66-65, and 14th-seeded Virginia Tech upset 11th-seeded Wake Forest 81-80.  These close games are an indicator that this should be a fun tournament to watch.  Wake Forest has lost 5 of their last 6 games, with the only win coming against Pitt.  That game really hurt us.

This afternoon, 8th-seeded Clemson battles 9th-seeded Florida State.  Pitt’s loss to Florida State on Saturday dropped the Panthers from 8th to 10th, which could be detrimental to their hopes of a tourney win.  Clemson (16-14, 8-10) hasn’t impressed me this season, whereas Florida State (16-15, 8-10 ACC) has a star in the making in freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (XRM).  I think XRM takes over this game and the Florida State size is too much for the Tigers.

Prediction: Florida State 64, Clemson 58

The next game will feature 5th-seeded North Carolina (21-10, 11-7) against 12th-seed Boston College.  Boston College has one of the best scorers in the league in Olivier Hanlan, but the Tar Heels are way too athletic.  North Carolina should win this one easily, though their lack of defense could prove costly against a scorer such as Hanlan.

Prediction: UNC 77, Boston College 66

In the last game of the second round, 6th-seeded Miami (20-11, 10-8 ACC) will face 14th-seeded Virginia Tech, who will be looking for another upset.  The Hurricanes are a difficult team to figure out, losing to “cupcakes” but knocking off Duke.  Buzz Williams is looking to turn Virginia Tech around, and I predict the three-pointers will be falling for the Hokies.  This is my upset of the tourney, which will pop Miami’s NCAA Bubble.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 65, Miami 64

Moving to the ACC quarterfinals, this is where we meet the top dogs, as Virginia and Duke are both looking to secure No. 1 seeds for the Big Dance.

1-seed Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC) will play the winner of FSU/Clemson.  As per my predictions, I don’t think the Seminoles stand a chance against Virginia, who may not have leading-scorer Justin Anderson.  With the lock-down defense that Virginia plays, and the amount of turnovers Florida State commits, I can’t see the upset happening.

Prediction: Virginia 70, Florida State 52

The 4th-seeded Louisville Cardinals (24-7, 12-6 ACC) are the newcomers to the ACC tournament, who will be looking to make their mark against the winner of UNC/BC.  With the departure of Chris Jones, I don’t think Louisville can score enough, as Montreszl Harrell and Terry Rozier can only do so much.  North Carolina will present some matchup problems to the Cardinals, who will be sent home quickly.

Prediction: North Carolina 75, Louisville 67

Charging forward, the 2nd-seeded Duke Blue Devils (28-3, 15-3 ACC) will face the winner of NC State/Pitt.  If my Pitt Panthers can get past NC State, this would be a huge opportunity for the Panthers.  By defeating NC State and the potential early upset of Miami, Pitt could have one last shot at impressing the Tournament Committee.  For as much as I want to say that Pitt can pull off one of the biggest upsets of the tourney, I simply cannot see it happening after the current 3-game debacle against beatable teams.

Dixon needs to let the Panthers run more, and his loyalty to upperclassmen like Cameron Wright has hurt this young Pitt team.  Freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor will thrive against a squad lacking a true center.  I think this will be the end of the road for Pitt, as they will await a disappointing bid to the NIT Tournament.

Prediction: Duke 78, Pitt 64

In the final game of the quarterfinals, 3rd-seeded Notre Dame (26-5, 14-4 ACC) will match up with the winner of Miami/Virginia Tech.  Here is where Virginia Tech runs out of luck (get it?), as the Irish have too many scorers.  Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton light up the nets, in a high scoring affair.

Prediction: Notre Dame 89, Virginia Tech 76

Surging forward to the ACC Semifinals, I am predicting that Virginia will battle North Carolina in a clash of defense vs non-defense.  The Cavaliers play some of the best defense we have seen in college basketball, and this will likely frustrate the UNC scorers.  Virginia beat UNC by 11 this season, and I expect Malcolm Brogdon to have one of his best games of the season.

Prediction: Virginia 71, UNC 63

In the other semifinal, I think Duke meets Notre Dame for the third meeting of the season.  The Irish upset Duke 77-73 in South Bend, but then Duke throttled them 90-60 at home.  Both of these teams have scorers at every position, but Duke is on a mission for a 1 seed and Coach K will have his freshman stars ready.

Prediction: Duke 84, Notre Dame 81

This gets us to the ACC Championship game, where no surprise, I see Virginia battling Duke for ultimate bragging rights.  At this point, both teams will have locked up NCAA 1-seeds, and the Cavaliers will be looking for revenge against the team that handed them their first loss of the season.  Though Virginia may be questionable when it comes to scoring capability, ultimately defense can win championships.  With a team that is more experienced, I think Virginia edges Duke in an instant classic.  Down two with under ten seconds remaining, Brogdon buries a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the ACC title.

Prediction: Virginia 75, Duke 74