After more than a week off, Carolina returns to action tonight, when they host Pittsburgh, to start a six-game stretch that will determine if this team is capable of competing for an ACC championship. The last time we saw the Tar Heels, they won at Syracuse in a really physical game, as Carolina earned their second straight road win of the season. The win improved Carolina’s record to 15-6 overall, and they are 7-3 in the ACC, two games out of first place.
Pittsburgh’s turnaround season has come entirely out of nowhere, as they are 15-7 on the season and 8-3 in the ACC. They are coming off an upset win over Miami over the weekend, as they look to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team. They currently have four players averaging double-figures scoring led by Blake Hinson’s 16.4 points, on 45% shooting from the field, and 38% from behind the arc. Additionally, Jamarious Burton (16.1), Greg Elliott (11.0), and Nelly Cummings (10.2) are also averaging double figures. Pittsburgh averages 9.1 made three-pointers per game, which is 28th best in the country.
When Pittsburgh upset then #25 ranked North Carolina back on December 30th, it was deemed then a questionable loss, as nobody believed that Pittsburgh was going to be this competitive in the ACC. This game has plenty of meaning for the visiting Panthers, as according to Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, he has Pittsburgh as among one of the Last Four teams in the field, a win tonight, could solidly put them in the field. As for Carolina, despite a pretty respectable record, they find themselves as an 8 seed, but a win tonight could improve their seeding.
Carolina will most likely be without Puff Johnson tonight, as he’s still dealing with a sore knee. As for R.J. Davis who took a couple of shots to the head in the win over Syracuse, Hubert Davis said on Monday he was in a really good place and was good to practice.
Carolina not only lost to Pittsburgh earlier in the season, they lost at home last season to the Panthers, which resulted in Pitt assistant Jason Capel (former Tar Heel), proclaiming that the team and the program were soft. So it’s safe to say, that Carolina owes them a defeat tonight. Here’s how they can do just that:
Don't Look Ahead to Saturday: All the attention and focus of not only the fans, but even the media will be on Saturday’s game at Duke when the greatest rivalry in sports renews itself. But Carolina can’t afford to get caught looking ahead if they want to keep themselves in position to compete for the ACC title. With four returning starters from last season and a fifth-year senior in the starting lineup, the maturity that exists on the team needs to shine through tonight.
Contain Dribble Drive: In the loss back in December, Carolina really struggled to keep Pittsburgh out of the lane, as Burton got just about whatever he wanted, on his way to scoring 31 points, on 14-17 shooting. If you go back to the win over NC State, Carolina defend their tails off, and it had Hubert Davis excited about their defensive potential. We haven’t really seen the full-court as of late, but this would be a perfect time to deploy it, to take them out of rhythm on offense, and try to force them to settle for perimeter shots.
Shot Selection: The other reason that Carolina lost that game at Pittsburgh earlier in the season, was because the shot selection in the closing moments wasn’t very good. The difference between Carolina’s offense now, and from back in December, is that R.J. Davis has once again established himself as the primary ball handler, and all the offense goes through him, and Armando Bacot.
Series History: The Tar Heels are 15-7 against the Panthers, although Pittsburgh has won four out of the last five. In Chapel Hill, Carolina is 7-2, and 6-2 in the Smith Center.
North Carolina - 32nd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 (27th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 97.9 (56th)
Pittsburgh - 68th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 111.5 (54th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 100.1 (87th)
North Carolina - 33rd.
Pittsburgh - 62nd.
TV Info: Tonight’s game will air at 7 PM on the ACC Network.
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