No. 8 North Carolina at Pittsburgh
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: ACC Network (Dwayne Ballen, Brian Oliver). Internet live-stream: WatchESPN app. Radio: 106.1-WTKK; SiriusXM channel 84
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Projected starting lineups
North Carolina (24-5, 12-3 ACC)
G Joel Berry 14.6 ppg, 4 apg
G Theo Pinson 7.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Justin Jackson 18.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Isaiah Hicks 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Kennedy Meeks 12.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Pittsburgh (15-13, 4-11)
G Jamel Artis 19.3 ppg, 3.4 apg
G Chris Jones 7.1 ppg, 3 rpg
G Cameron Johnson 12 ppg, 4.7 rpg
F Sheldon Jeter 8.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg
F Michael Young 20.4 ppg, 7 rpg
▪ Don’t take the Panthers lightly
It might sound a bit silly but Pittsburgh is probably the best 15-13 team in the country. The Panthers have to be the best team with a 4-11 record in its conference. They’ve won three out of their past five games, which might not sound like much but remember that Pitt lost eight consecutive games at one point. So the Panthers have shown some fight of late. The Tar Heels escaped the Panthers with an 80-78 win on Jan. 31, when Cameron Johnson missed a 3-pointer at the final buzzer. Pitt has not been a very good defensive team – in fact it’s one of the ACC’s worst – but with Michael Young, Jamel Artis and Johnson, this is a team can score with just about anybody, especially when the outside shots are falling as they were in Chapel Hill.
▪ Tar Heels can clinch a double-bye
It was about this time last season that UNC took its play to a different, higher level, and when it began a run that didn’t end until the final night of the season. It’s starting to feel like a similar run has begun. The Tar Heels are coming off their two most impressive victories in conference play – a 24-point victory against Virginia last weekend, and a 74-63 win against Louisville earlier this week. First it survived, and thrived, amid a slower pace against Virginia. Then the Tar Heels withstood the physical punishment of playing against Louisville. UNC has built a lot of momentum during the past week. Another strong performance on Saturday would lend credence to the idea that the Tar Heels are playing their best at the right time. A victory would also guarantee UNC a double-bye in the ACC tournament. If UNC wins and if Duke loses at Miami on Saturday, the Tar Heels will clinch the top seed in the tournament.
▪ Scouting Pitt: Young and Artis have been the best one-two scoring punch in the ACC, and they combined for 36 points when these teams played late last month at the Smith Center. That night, though, Johnson carried the Panthers. He finished with 24 points and made six of his nine 3-point attempts. Those kept Pitt in the game during the second half, and allowed it to have a shot late after UNC built a nine-point lead with 5 ½ minutes remaining. Defense has been a problem all season for the Panthers. They’re one of the nation’s worst teams at forcing turnovers, and they’re an average rebounding team – which means that it could struggle against UNC, which has been the nation’s best rebounding team. Pitt played its most efficient offensive game of the season against UNC on Jan. 31, and the Panthers still lost. It will likely take a repeat of that performance for the Panthers to win on Saturday.