Heel Tough Blog: Pittsburgh Preview

After starting the ACC season 0-2, Carolina has reeled off wins in 5 of their last 6 games. The win streak has now vaulted a team that was once looking for answers, into the conversation of winning the ACC regular season title. A big reason for the turnaround, has been improved play on the perimeter, most notably from Caleb Love and R.J. Davis, as well as better individual and team defense. In their over NC State on Saturday, Carolina scored a season high 86 points, while shooting a season best 54% from the field. They’ll be looking to continue that performance tomorrow night in Pittsburgh.



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It’s taken some time, but Jeff Capel is starting to build something in Pittsburgh. The Panthers enter tomorrow’s game with an 8-3 record overall, including 4-2 in the ACC. They are coming off a disappointing loss at Wake Forest on Saturday, where the Demon Deacons secured their first ACC win of the season. The Panthers are led by the favorite to win the ACC Player of the Year award, Justin Champagnie. Champagnie leads the team in scoring with 19.9 points per game, and rebounding at 12.4 boards per contest. In addition to the stellar play of Champagnie, Pitt is also getting help from junior guards in Xavier Johnson, and Au’Diese Toney. Both guys are averaging double figures scoring, as they’ve grown into themselves in their third seasons on campus.


Pitt beat Carolina twice in a span of 10 days a season ago, making it the first time since they joined the ACC that they beat the Tar Heels in every game that season. While those losses were deemed to be “bad” losses, a loss to Pitt this year wouldn’t be looked at the same way. With that in mind, a win over Pitt would help Carolina’s chances of competing for a regular season title, and continue to build their resume for the NCAA Tournament. Here’s what it’ll take for the Tar Heels to win their second road conference game:


  1. Contain Champagnie: This might be the hardest for Carolina since they were tasked with trying to slow Luka Garza from Iowa back in December. Champagnie is playing at a really high level now for the Panthers, and is a matchup nightmare on the perimeter. Expect Leaky Black to draw the assignment, and he’ll have to duplicate his effort of Buddy Boeheim from Syracuse from a couple of weeks ago.

  2. Own the Backboard: Pitt is the only team that Carolina has seen so far in ACC play, that statistically can challenge Carolina’s rebounding prowess. The Tar Heels average 43.5 rebounds per game, while the Panthers average 42.3. What makes Pittsburgh so tough to keep off the glass, is that all 5 guys on the floor at any given time can rebound the ball. It’ll be important for the Tar Heels to get their man boxed out quickly and effectively to limit second chance opportunities. On the flip side, Carolina will need one of their best rebounding efforts of the season, to help win one on the road.

  3. Continued Efficient Offense: After appearing stuck in mud offensively, Carolina is averaging 80.5 points per game over their last 4 games. Furthermore in their last 3 contests, the Tar Heels are averaging .93 points per possession, something they;ve failed to do all season long. A big part of the improved offensive numbers are in part to Carolina limiting the turnovers, but it’s more than that. Their floor spacing has improved since the win over Syracuse, and Caleb Love and R.J. Davis are continuing to get better as the season moves along. Add in the return of Anthony Harris from injury, and the steady shooting of Kerwin Walton, it was only a matter of time before this offense started playing to its potential. They’ll need a big time offensive performance tomorrow night in the Petersen Events Center.


Series History: Despite getting swept last season, Carolina is still 14-5 overall against the Panthers, including 7-4 since they joined the conference. Roy Williams is 7-4 against Pitt while at UNC, and 8-4 overall. The Panthers will be seeking their first ever 3 game winning streak against the Tar Heels.


KenPom:


UNC - 35th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 109.4 (63rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 91.8 (23rd)


Pittsburgh - 65th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 106.6 (90th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.4 (42nd)


NET:


UNC - 51st.


Pittsburgh - 58th.


TV Info: The ACC Network has tomorrow’s game, which will start at 9 pm.


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