The Pitt Panthers are on the road Saturday, at the Joyce Center in South Bend, IN to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame comes into the game with Pitt at 15-14 and only 6-10 in the ACC. This was the inaugural ACC season for the Irish who were hoping to take the conference by storm. However, it has been a down year for the program.
The 2013-14 season started off promising for the Irish, who began the season at 10-4 , including an upset victory over then ranked seventh Duke. From there, Notre Dame lost six of their next seven games and fell to 11-10 and has struggled to stay above .500 since.
Notre Dame was led by junior Jerian Grant, who averaged 19 points per game and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.4, which was top-10 in the country. On December 23, it was announced that, due academic issues, Grant left the university, thus leaving the basketball team.
His absence from the team left a void that the Irish have been unable to fill. With the exception of the win over Duke, Notre Dame has not been the same team since Grant departed and is widely believed be a factor in their downward spiral.
Notre Dame’s only chance at making the NCAA tournament is to earn an automatic bid by winning the ACC tournament. Notre Dame would still be on the outside looking in, even if they were able to beat Pitt and win their final game with North Carolina. Their record would be 17-14, and that likely would not be enough to earn the Irish a tournament bid.
This game against Pitt, serves as a pride game for the Irish. Notre Dame has always been a difficult matchup for the Panthers, especially while playing at home at the Joyce Center. The Irish would relish the opportunity to upset the Panthers and weaken their NCAA tournament bid chances.
The matchup with the Pitt basketball team also serves as Notre Dame’s senior day. The Irish will honor four seniors prior to the game, Tom Knight, Patrick Crowley, Garrick Sherman and Eric Atkins. Atkins and Sherman are the leading scorers on the Irish at 13.8 and 13.6 points per game respectfully.
The Panthers will have their hands full on Saturday when they go up against two highly talented seniors playing for their endearing home fans for the final time.
On Wednesday, the Panthers were able to ease past a weak Boston College team, 66-59, in what was closer than most fans would like. If you look past the scorebook, the Panthers had no trouble disposing of the Eagles and if they didn’t slow down their pace, there is no doubt that they would have won by at least 20.
Pitt still has an outside chance at earning a top-four seed and a bye to the third round of the ACC tournament. For that to happen, the Panthers cannot lose any of their final three games. This could serve as a preview of an ACC tournament second-round matchup.
The Panthers will most likely enter the ACC tournament as a five seed, and the Irish in tenth place could very well end up as the twelve seed, thus setting up a potential rematch in the second round of the tournament.
Pitt needs to use this game as a tune-up for a likely tough matchup with North Carolina State on Monday. North Carolina State, 17-11, needs to pick up a few more wins to put them in position to make the NCAA tournament.
That being said, this Pitt basketball team cannot overlook the Irish. The Irish are looking to win a sixth straight game against the Panthers. The Panthers need Lamar Patterson to get hot early and lead the way, if that does not happen I am not too confident that the Panthers will be able to hold off the crowd and inspired seniors and could lose a heartbreaker on the road.