Pitt's Depth Will Carry Them in ACC and NCAA Tournaments

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I know Louisville is a lousy basketball team this season.  In fact, they stink.  So maybe you don't take anything from last night's 75-54 Pitt win.  

However, Jon Rothstein from CBS Sports labeled it a must-win for Pitt's tournament chances.  Not because it was a win over a respected opponent, but because a loss to a team playing as bad as Louisville on Pitt's resumé would keep them out of the NCAA Tournament.

First of all, can you believe we're talking about Pitt's tournament resumé again?  How exciting is that?  How long has it been?

But the second point I want to make about last night's game is I am more excited about this Panther team after Nelly Cummings and Blake Hinson had terrible shooting nights.  You'd think that's backwards, right?  Why would bad games from two of our best players against a terrible team be exciting?  It's because of the way the other Panther guards picked them up.

See, Pitt teams as of late have depended on one or two players to have star performances night in and night out.  Potentially the stress of that and the insane amount of minutes John Hugley had to endure last season may have led to the injury he is still dealing with this season.  I'm not blaming anyone for the Hugley situation, but with the lack of depth, and the lack of rest Hugley received, I do wonder if that was a part of it.  

And that isn't new for post-Jamie Dixon Pitt teams.  The two seasons before they were heavily dependent on Justin Champagnie, and before his time if Jared Wilson-Frame had a bad game, Pitt lost.  It's been a long time since the Panthers could withstand an off night from one, and especially two, of their main scorers and come out with a win.

That is not true of this season's Pitt team.  In fact, even taking last night's game out of the equation, if you truly just can't get passed Louisville being a bad team, Greg Elliot was our hottest shooter in the pre-ACC schedule.  Then he greatly cooled off once conference games started.  Fortunately that's when Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings, and Jamarius Burton stepped up.  Now we've seen Nike Sibande step up in a huge way, logging 21 points against Georgia Tech and then 12 points against Louisville, all off the bench.  And Elliot found his shot again last night amounting to 23 points with 15 of them from three-point range.  

So with Hinson, Cummings, Burton, Sibande, and Elliot all having the ability to step up in any given game, the Panthers have never been deeper.  At least in the decade.  And depth is what leads to success in tournament play.  

Hinson and Sibande have bad games in the 1st round of the ACC Tournament?  Burton and Elliot step up.  Cummings and Elliot run into early foul trouble in a Sweet 16 game, (I know, I'm getting ahead of myself) Sibande and Hinson step up.  And don't even get me started on if Fede Federiko ever gets going underneath or if Nate Santos joins the 3-point shooting fest.  If that happens Pitt is all but guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament.  

So that is why last night's game was so encouraging to me.  We saw two of our best players in Hinson and Cummings have ice cold games from the field, and it didn't matter.  Pitt still won by 20+ points.  That just hasn't happened since Jamie Dixon went to coach at TCU.  Also depth naturally helps down the stretch when players from teams with less depth have logged way more minutes by the time the tournament rolls around.  

I'm not saying to bet the mortgage on Pitt winning the NCAA Championship, but there's no reason this team can't go on a run.  They have the formula in a way they haven't had in years.