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Nelly Cummings, Pitt Staying Focused As National Attention Rolls In



PITTSBURGH — Pitt hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2016, and this year, the Panthers look like they’ve got their best shot at meaningful March basketball since then.

Pitt (12-6, 5-2 ACC) has been included in several March Madness bracket predictions by national analysts, including Jerry Palm of CBS. On Monday, Palmer included the Panthers as a No. 9 seed in his latest bracket update. He predicted that they will take on No. 8 seed Iowa in Des Moines, Iowa, in the Midwest region.

In ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket prediction, the Panthers are the “Last Team In.” Lunardi, a.k.a. “Joey Brackets,” has Pitt as an 11 seed playing in a play-in game against UCF, once again in Des Moines, Iowa.

Despite the recent national attention, the Panthers, led by Pittsburgh native Nelly Cummings, are staying focused as their season rolls along.

“No, we really don’t,” Cummings said when asked if his teammates talk about the potential of Pitt making the tournament. “We really try to stay focused on our next opportunity. We can’t take anything for granted. We don’t want to look too far ahead, too far behind, we are going to just stay in the present moment.”

Four of Pitt’s players have reached the tournament before in their respective careers. As a freshman at Ole Miss, Blake Hinson made the big dance, scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds in a first-round loss to Brady Manek and Oklahoma. Jamarius Burton made the dance in 2021 with Texas Tech, winning his first-round game over Utah State but falling in the second round to Arkansas. Cummings himself made the tournament in both 2021 and 2022 with Colgate, losing to Arkansas in 2021 (14 points) and then Wisconsin in 2022 (20 points). Greg Elliott made it once while at Marquette, falling to North Carolina in 2022.

“I think that’s definitely going to help us, for sure,” Cummings said about Pitt’s individual tournament experience. “We’re all focused on every single game and every opportunity. I’ve come from a conference where I had to win it. So we’re not going to take any opportunity lightly. We’re going to make sure we bring our A-game every single time we step on the court.”

Pitt looks to stack another conference win with its next game on Wednesday, Jan. 18 against Louisville (2-16, 0-7 ACC). That game will tip off at 7 p.m. on ACC Network from the KFC Yum! Center. After that contest, the team will come back home for a Saturday afternoon matchup against Florida State at the Petersen Events Center on Jan. 21.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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