UNC’s tournament hopes take hit with bad loss to Pitt

UNC forward Brady Manek reacts during the second half of the Tar Heels’ loss to Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a serious hit on Wednesday night with a 76-67 upset loss at home to Pitt.

UNC, tied for third in the ACC and hoping to earn a double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament, was on the right side of the NCAA bubble, although a bid was far from assured. A win over Pitt, at 5-10 in the ACC, good for 11th place, and 10-16 overall, wouldn’t have done much to help improve the Tar Heels’ postseason resume. The loss, however, was a torpedo.

“We’re upset,” said Caleb Love. “This is a terrible loss.”

Pitt used a 21-2 run early in the first half to build a 29-14 lead. The Panthers went on to lead by 17 at the half and built the lead as high as 21 points before a late UNC rally narrowed the gap.

Playing in front of a partially full Smith Center, UNC’s players also appeared to not be giving the Panthers their full attention.

“It’s been communicated every day, a number of times,” said a clearly frustrated Hubert Davis. “We’ve got to play defense in the first half. Pitt shot 56% from the field, which I think is the highest they’ve shot in a half all year. We’ve got to rebound the basketball. They outrebounded us in the first half. Taking care of the basketball — in the first half, we had 10 turnovers and they got 20 points off them. So every turnover they were converting into points.”

Pitt entered the game at No. 306 in the country in effective shooting but hit more than half its shots for the game. The Panthers were No. 253 in 3-point shooting and shot 6 of 9 in the first half and 10 of 17 in the game. They were also No. 296 in the country in forcing turnovers on defense.

“We came out flat,” said Love. “We weren’t making shots. We dug ourselves a hole, and it was too deep.”

The loss will be weighted heavily by the NCAA selection committee, since playing Pitt at home was a Quad IV game — the lowest rated tier of opposition in the eyes of the committee.

Since the 2007-08 season, the farthest back that Quadrant levels are stored by Bart Torvik’s analytics site, UNC was 63-1 against Quad IV opponents, with Wofford in Carmichael Auditorium in 2019-20 the only loss over that span. Wofford was ranked No. 151 in the nation by Torvik’s statistical model. Pitt entered the games 37 spots lower, making it UNC’s worst loss in at least 14 seasons.

Davis made it clear where the blame for the loss fell.

“We didn’t have great practices on the days before,” said Love. “He told us this would happen.”

“Our practice on Monday was not good. I got after them about the attention to detail and our preparation in practice,” Davis said. “Tuesday was better but not where I wanted it to be. We just didn’t play the way that I hoped, anticipated, thought that we would play, with so much to play for, so much motivation to compete. It was just very disappointing.”

UNC is 0-7 against Quad I teams this year but will have two more chances to post big wins in the regular season — trips to Virginia Tech and Duke are still on the schedule. The trip to Blacksburg begins the season-ending five-game stretch.

“We’ve got no choice,” Davis said. “We can sit here and whine, complain, point fingers and make excuses, or we can show up the next day ready to compete and fight and get after it.”