Den – Staff Picks: Pitt faces Miami in key ACC showdown

Pitt is preparing to host possibly its biggest home game in recent memory. The #20 from Miami comes to the Petersen Events Center today for a 4pm tip. Both teams are near the top of the ACC standings midway through conference play, and this is a critical game for positioning.

Miami is under the direction of veteran coach Jim Larranaga. He has led the Hurricanes since 2011 and came off an Elite 8 appearance last year. Miami has a balanced scoring team that includes four players averaging in the double digits. They are led by Isaiah Wong, who started 95 games in his career with the Hurricanes. He is averaging 16.3 points per game. Miami also has perhaps the best newcomer in the league this season as Norchad Omier dropped down low and provided an immediate presence. The undersized 6’7″ forward averages double-double.

Pitt has been one of the more surprising teams in the league this season. After being picked to finish 14th in the preseason, the Panthers are in the thick of the ACC race midway through conference play. Pitt had a memorable game Wednesday, holding off Wake Forest by 2 points. Along the way Pitt made 18 3-pointers in the game led by 24 points by Blake Hinson.

These teams mirror each other in many ways. Both teams are led by the guard and have received immediate contributions from the transfer portal. Despite Miami being the ranked team here, this game is pretty much considered a no-brainer by the odds makers.

Can Pitt get another home win against a ranked team? The staff gives their picks.

Stephen Gertz (15-6): It makes me nervous that the Pittsburgh Panthers needed a program record 18 triples to beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons; they needed every one of them. A better team than the Miami Hurricanes is now in town and I’d wager Pitt won’t hit 18 triples today. I’d be surprised if they made 12, which is about three more than their seasonal average. Miami isn’t a special team on defense, but they sure are on the offensive side of the ball. Led by Isaiah Wong — the only guard I’d put ahead of Jamarius Burton in the ACC — they come at you in waves and will consistently pressure a Panthers defense that hasn’t been good a full 40 minutes late. The Hurricanes break glass at the offensive end and are extremely efficient within the arc and charity stripe. There is a path to winning Pitt. Mainly, really good performances by everyone and avoiding foul problems. But they seem to have less margin for error.

Prediction: Miami 78, Pitt 74

Houston Wilson (14-7): Pitt is hosting another big game today against Miami in a game that if Pitt wins can, will boost their NCAA track record even more. It won’t be easy though as Miami has been one of the more consistent ACC teams this year. Miami is led by Isaiah Wong, one of the best point guards in the league averaging 16.3 points per game. Pitt will have to cap that but he’ll also have to factor in three other guys averaging double-digit points per game in Jordan Miller, Norchad Omier and Nijel Pack. Of course if Pitt shoots like he did against Wake, it’s going to be hard for them to lose. I think this will be a possession game with less than a minute left with Pitt finding a way to win it.

Prediction: Pitt 82, Miami 81

Matt Steinbrink (10-11): The 2003 Big East championship team is back in attendance for this one, and it’s fitting because this team is the best this program has seen in years. It’s been 20 years since we’ve seen that team, which is hard to believe. This is another big plus for the Panthers because they were able to beat Wake. Will they be able to keep the shot touching and skipping Miami in the standings? This team from Miami presents a real challenge. They are built much like Pitt. The point guards are comparable, Wong and Burton practically cancel each other out, and Miler and Hinson are almost carbon copies. Miami has the lead up front, while Pitt has the lead off the bench with Nike Sibande. Both teams shot very well last time out, so we’ll see if they can keep it up. My guess is that both will shoot it closer to their averages. If Pitt can keep Omier and the Hurricanes out of the offensive glass, they should be in good shape. The rebound and goal drought has been a problem for the Panthers all season. This is supposed to be great and I’ve seen it coming up to the very last shot. This could go either way, but Miami could prove they have just one more edge today.

Prediction: Miami 76, Pitt 73

Jim Hammett (13-8): This line is basically a pick ’em today, as the game features two fairly evenly matched teams. I see this game taking a similar path to Wednesday’s game with Wake Forest. I’m not sure Pitt can match 18 3-pointers, but I think it will be a high-paced offensive game that goes all the way to the edge. In some recent games, we’ve seen Jamarius Burton take a minor role in the scoring department, but in turn become more of a facilitator. I expect Burton to play a goal game. He rose to the occasion and played some of his best basketball games this year in big games at Pitt, and I think it’s happening again today.

Prediction: Pitt 75, Miami 72

Chris Peak (14-7): This is kind of a matchup. Pitt and Miami have a lot in common: They are both 7-3 in ACC play and both are led by talented veteran backcourts. The Hurricanes lead the ACC in shooting percentage — they’re shooting 47.8% as a team — but their goal-scoring average is only slightly above Pitt’s, due to the Panthers hitting 40 three-pointers thus far points more than Miami. season. Pitt will continue to shoot threes, but this game really could – and probably will – hinge on the Panthers’ ability to defend the Hurricanes. Miami guard Isaiah Wong has a pair of 20-point games against Pitt in his career, but scored just four points on 2-of-10 shooting in the Hurricanes’ win over the Panthers last February. I really don’t know what to expect here; I really can’t predict that Pitt will set another three-in-a-game record, but I will give Pitt a slight home advantage (and Miami is on a weird win-one/loss pattern over the last seven games, which would make the Hurricanes a loss in this match).

Prediction: Pitt 77, Miami 76

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