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Pitt to open ACC Tournament with Miami

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After a somewhat disappointing regular season that saw the Panthers again finish under .500, the team is headed to the ACC Tournament this week.

Pitt (10-11) enters the field as the No. 12 seed and gets an opening-round game against Miami (8-16) on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m.

The two teams met once this year — in the Panthers’ ACC opener when Pitt won a 70-55 game. Miami, if you recall, had only seven players in that game and has been decimated by injuries. I haven’t been keeping up with the Hurricanes much since then but they’ve been shorthanded all year. The Hurricanes again only played seven guys against Boston College in their finale (an 80-76 win, for what it’s worth).

If you look a little deeper, too, you see that the Hurricanes are even more shorthanded than what it sounds. Seven players did suit up against Boston College but only five scored. Two players, Deng Gak and Willie Herenton, are averaging a total of 2.8 points per game and both went scoreless in the Boston College game in 22 combined minutes. Calling Miami shorthanded, it seems, is even an understatement.

Still, the Panthers should be wary. Miami won that Boston College game and, while they ended the season a Pitt-like 1-6 down the stretch, they’ve also occasionally pulled off some shockers. Playing with only seven guys, they stunned both Duke and a ranked Louisville team, pulling off unlikely victories.

Another point is that, Miami’s been doing this all year. Playing shorthanded is nothing new to them and, of course, this is not the same Pitt team that beat them earlier in the year. The Panthers got a combined 22 points from Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson in that game, and those guys aren’t around.

How far the Panthers get in the tournament will depend on what they can get out of star Justin Champagnie, obviously. And while he’s been a great player for the Panthers, he’s seen some difficulties lately.

The 13 points he had on Saturday against Clemson was one of his lowest point totals of the season. The four rebounds were a season-low. He had a big game (20 and 13) in the win against Wake but before that, he shot only 4-13 from the field in the NC State loss. A couple of games before that, he had another poor shooting night, also against NC State, connecting on only 3-11 attempts.

None of that is to suggest Champagnie isn’t carrying his weight. He’s still often been a dominant player for the Panthers and is clearly the team’s most useful piece. But without Toney and Johnson, there’s even less margin for error in Champagnie’s game and if the Panthers are to make much noise in the tournament, they’ll only do so if he’s producing.

What we get on Tuesday is anybody’s guess. The Panthers are missing Toney and Johnson but still have managed to be fairly competitive without them. Even in Saturday’s blowout loss to Clemson, the team shot okay and just ran into the Tigers, who shot lights out. Miami is not a good team and it’s a game the Panthers can win.

Tentatively, my mind says take Pitt here. But this is also a hodgepodge of a team that doesn’t even have five definitive starters at this point. So — yeah ..

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