With a win tonight, Jeff Capel and the Pittsburgh Panthers can clinch a share of the ACC regular season title as well as a guaranteed top-two seed in the ACC tournament. Who would’ve thought? You’ve heard it plenty of times, but the shocking turnaround bears repeating. This is a Pitt team that was picked to finish second to last in the conference this preseason, only to shock the ACC fans up and down the coast throughout the last few months. So who stands in the way of Pitt tonight? Here’s a preview of what to expect from Mike Brey’s last Notre Dame team.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, one year removed from a little bit of a run in March Madness, is not having a year to remember. In Mike Brey’s final go, the Irish are 10-19 (2-16 ACC) and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. They’re led by senior forward Nate Laszewski, a 6’10” sharpshooter who’s averaging 14.1 PPG and 7.1 REB while shooting at a 40% clip from deep. Laszewski has been held in check his last two games, averaging only six points against Wake Forest and UNC.
It’ll pose an interesting matchup question for Federiko Federiko, who will likely be matched up with the senior from South Bend. With Notre Dame running a four-out offense Fede will likely be asked to extend his defensive presence further outside of the paint, something we haven’t seen much of.
Also worth noting is the emotional element of this game. This is the last home game for Notre Dame of the Mike Brey era, and the emotions of players and fans alike are going to be at the highest Notre Dame has experienced in their oft-forgetful season. After taking over the job at the turn of the 21st century, Brey has been a fixture of South Bend.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
LIMIT ND FROM OUTSIDE:
Notre Dame doesn’t do much that well on the basketball court this year, but they are an effective three-point shooting team. ND ranks third (Pitt is second) in the conference in three-pointers made on the season, and they shoot them at a rather effective 36% clip. A combination of emotions running high and streaky shooting has all the makings of a recipe for a potential trap game for the Panthers, but Pitt is no slouch in defending the perimeter either. Pitt is fourth in the ACC in opponent three-point percentage, holding teams to just 32.7% from deep on the year.
DOMINATE THE BOARDS:
Notre Dame is dead last in the ACC in rebounding margin. They average 31.0 total rebounds per game, last in the conference, as well as allowing the 12th most rebounds of any ACC team. Pitt should be able to separate themselves in this game on the back of second-chance points, and players like Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko could be primed for impact performances if they can take advantage of an undersized ND team.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A BAD DEFENSE:
Notre Dame is ranked 258 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KENPOM, sandwiched between powerhouses like Campbell and Arkansas Pine Bluff. Notre Dame does nothing to disrupt the offensive flow of a team. They don’t generate turnovers, force tough shots (2nd highest opponent FG% in ACC) or have a real forceful paint presence. Pitt should be able to comfortably run their sets, and when the Panthers are able to do their thing, is there anyone in the ACC that can stop them all that consistently?
Sorry Mike Brey, no magical send-off for you. Good luck with where you coach next (did you know he doesn’t plan to retire? I must have convinced myself of that at some point.) but the Panthers are winning this game 84-72. ACC regular season champs? Sounds good to me.