During this round of 32 matchup, plenty of people will be digging through history when the Pittsburgh Panthers take on the Xavier Musketeers with the sweet 16 on the line. Of course, that history is none other than Sean Miller, the Xavier coach who suited up in the blue and gold from 1987-92. The floor general and leader for the Pitt program that had Charles Smith and Jermone Lane, Miller’s leadership qualities made for a smooth transition into coaching when his playing days ended.
Fast forward to 2009 after five seasons at Xavier, Miller’s final game in his first stop with the Musketeers ended up being a 60-55 loss to the 1st seeded Pitt Panthers in the sweet 16. After the well-documented highs and lows of his time with the University of Arizona, it all comes full circle for this upcoming game.
Much has changed since that last tournament matchup between the two in 2009.
After years of success for both programs, both teams are now making their first NCAA tournament appearance of the 2020s. So now we turn our attention to the next chapter and this matchup will present a drastic change of pace from what the Panthers have seen in the first two matchups of the tournament.
While Iowa State and Mississippi State wanted to slow the game down and win off of defense and control, the Musketeers put up points in bunches. Xavier is 11th in the country in points per game and while they don't attempt as many threes as the Panthers, the Musketeers have been able to hit the deep ball at a higher rate.
Xavier is led by senior guard Soley Baum a 6’3 guard from Oakland, California who is shooting 41.8% from three this season. Xavier currently has four active players averaging double figures similar to Pitt, each is capable of stepping up when their number is called. In their last game against Kennesaw State, senior forward Jerome Hunter put up 24 points and five rebounds to help ensure there was no first-round exit. Xavier will want to get out and run to put pressure on the Panther’s defense and force the Panthers to keep pace with their scoring output.
While ESPN analytics only give the Panthers a 31.2% chance to win this game, the Panthers have the ability to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Musketeer’s defense. Pitt won't be shy about letting it fly from deep and should see more room to operate on the offensive end than they have in their previous two matchups. Pitt has been able to run a deeper rotation than Xavier being able to consistently bring four off the bench to Xavier's tight seven-man rotation. If the Panthers can make the Musketeers work on the defensive end and earn their shots on the other side, this has the potential to be another upset for the Panther’s road to Kansas City for the sweet 16.