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Heel Tough Blog: Pittsburgh Preview


Bob Donnan - USA TODAY Sports

The calendar has turned to 2024, which means that it’s all ACC play from here on out for the Tar Heels, who are 9-3 and ranked #8 after the first two months of the season. Carolina always plays a difficult non-conference schedule, and this year was no different, as Carolina played five ranked teams in a six-game span, something never done before in Carolina Basketball history. The first two months also allow you to learn a lot about your team, and that certainly happened for Hubert Daivs, who learned he has arguably the best guard in the country on his roster, but he also learned his team has room to grow defensively for them to be serious contenders in what feels like a wide open ACC. 


Pittsburgh has been very competitive under Jeff Capel, and this year figures to be no different, as they are 9-4 so far on the season. There aren’t many “must-win” in January, but that might be where Pittsburgh is, because of the 9-4 record, they are 0-2 in league play. They are led by All-ACC player, Blake Hinson who is averaging 19.5 points per game, as he’s one of three Panthers to average double figures scoring. 


The Tar Heels have lost 5 of 6 to Pittsburgh, something you don’t typically see from any team in the league, let alone a Pitt program that hasn’t made a deep NCAA Tournament run since joining the ACC. If you remember after last year’s win over UNC in Chapel Hill, former Tar Heel, and current Pitt assistant, Jason Capel was taunting the players and coaches, and even went as far as to call his former program “soft’. We all know the competitor, Hubert Davis, don't think he won’t mention that to his ahead of tonight’s game.   


Not only is tonight important to end the losing streak, but it also qualifies as a Quad-1 opportunity for Carolina, something that will come into play when the NCAA Tournament selection committee tries to seed the tournament field. Carolina is 2-3 in Quad-1 games so far, which is a far better start than what we’ve seen in recent years, but a win tonight would be a good way to start the new year, and this three-game ACC road trip the team is currently on. Here’s how they get it done: 


  1. Finish at the Rim: Pittsburgh is as tough and physical a team in the entire league, and evidence of that is blocks per game average (5.0), which ranks 33rd in the country. Armando Bacot has struggled at times to finish at the rim, but that can’t be the case tonight if Carolina hopes to win. It’s not just on him tough, when Carolina’s guards attack the basket, they do so in a manner in which they are looking to finish through contact, as opposed to just drawing a foul. While Pitt isn’t the same level of a team that Tennessee is defensively, their physicality is very comparable. We saw Carolina handle their toughness in Chapel Hill, we’ll see how they handle that level of physically away from the Smith Center. 

  2. Limit Turnovers: Carolina is only averaging a little over 10 turnovers per game, another improvement from last season. But we haven’t seen this team play a true road game. Hubert Davis can down talk that all he wants, and there’s no denying that the games against UConn and Kentucky weren’t big-time environments, but those games weren’t played in Storrs or Lexington respectively. The good news is that Carolina is as tested as any team in the sport, and they are as experienced as any in the ACC, but how will Elliot Cadeau handle his first ACC road environment? Seth Trimble and Jalen Washington have both impressed off the bench, does that carry over away from home? The answers to those questions will most likely determine the outcome of this game. 

  3. Rebounding: Before the Charleston Southern game, Carolina had been outrebounded 126-99 over their last three games, all against power conference opponents. Pitt averages 42.2 rebounds per game, which is good for 18th in all of college basketball. In the win over Charleston Southern on Friday, Carolina won the rebounding margin 46-25. While that was expected, what wasn’t was having six different players grab at least 6 rebounds. That’s the formula for this team, they need to help Armando Bacot out, knowing he’s good for 10-12 rebounds on a nightly basis. 


Series History:

  •  The Tar Heels are 15-9 against Pitt all-time, and UNC is 6-3 on the road, including 3-3 in the Petersen Events Center. 


KenPom:

  • North Carolina - 12th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 118.7 (9th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.2 (39th) 

  • Pittsburgh - 45th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 111.0 (63rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.8 (44th)


NET:

  • North Carolina - 20th.

  • Pittsburgh - 41st. 

TV Info:

  •  Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7 PM on ESPN. 


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