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Previewing Pittsburgh

No. 9 North Carolina returns to action at the Smith Center for the first time in 15 days for a matchup with Pittsburgh on Sunday. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. and will be televised by the ACC Network.

North Carolina (20-4, 9-2 ACC) vs. Pittsburgh (17-6, 6-5 ACC)
Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dean E. Smith Center
Sunday, 1 p.m.
ACC Network (Tim Brant, Dan Bonner)

Quotables

“We have to look at ourselves first, and we are coming off two losses. We matter more than the opponent as far as the outcomes of games. And we lost to two good teams, and that last one [against Miami] was tough. We just have to play well. I truly have looked more at us than them, and we need to be a better team after these two losses. But nobody is going undefeated in our league.” – Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon on catching UNC at the right time

“We need to limit transition baskets and offensive rebounds. We can’t give them those. We know they will get some second-chance baskets, but we have to limit them. We’re not satisfied with where we are in both areas, particularly offensive rebounding, we give up too many second shots. We have always been a good defensive rebounding team, and we need to get back to that.” – Dixon

PREGAME NOTES

Season to Date: Pittsburgh enters Sunday’s contest with a 17-6 (6-5 ACC) record. The Panthers got off to a blistering start at 14-1 – their lone loss was to No. 4 Iowa – before hitting a series of roadblocks once ACC play began. The Panthers have lost five of their last nine games, including three of their last four to Clemson, Virginia and Miami. Pitt is averaging 55.7 points in its six losses this season.

Quality Offense: UNC faces its second efficient offense in three games against Pittsburgh. The Panthers are ranked 21st in offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, scoring 114.5 points per 100 possessions. Pitt is ranked in the top half of the ACC in scoring (5th with 78.4 PPG); field goal percentage (7th with 47.3 percent); 3-point shooting (4th with 36.4 percent); and assists (t-1st with 18.2 per game). A big part of the Panthers offensive success comes on the backboards, where they rebound 37.1 percent (20th) of their misses.

Young & Experienced: Junior forward Michael Young has stepped up as Pittsburgh’s primary scoring option this season. The Duquesne, Penn. native averages 16.6 points per game on 55 percent shooting. While Young is an efficient scorer inside, he could play an even larger role in getting UNC’s primary bigs into foul trouble and making the Tar Heels pay from the free throw line. Young has hit 82 percent of his foul shots this season, including his last eight from the charity stripe. Add in Young’s team leading 6.8 rebounds per game, and he has potential to wreak havoc on North Carolina’s interior if it isn’t energized.

Robinson Spreads the Love: Senior guard James Robinson facilitates Pittsburgh’s efficient offense at a high level. He leads the conference with 5.3 assists per game while contributing 9.3 points per game. Robinson has a good build for a point guard (6-foot-3, 198 pounds), and his frame could represent a physical challenge for UNC’s smaller guards.

Artis in the Paint: Junior forward Jamel Artis is Pitt’s second-leading scorer, scoring 15.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field. He is a small forward with size, and started his career at Pitt playing mostly as a 4. What makes Artis even more difficult to guard is his ability to step out and make longer distance shots. While Young is Pitt’s go-to guy this season, Artis has been a quality second option to help balance out the offensive scoring.

Defensive Difficulties: The good news for UNC is that while Pittsburgh is capable of being an offensive juggernaut, the defense has struggled at times this season. Pittsburgh is ranked 137th in the nation and 13th in the ACC in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions. Part of the issue is an inability to force turnovers. The Panthers rank 246th in defensive turnover percentage (17.4) and 275th in defensive steal percentage (7.4). Pitt’s slower tempo skews its scoring defense numbers (opponents score just over 66.3 points per game on the Panthers), but on a per possession basis, it struggles.

Last Meeting: The Panthers shot a blistering 64.9 percent in the middle of a snowstorm to up the Tar Heels, 89-76, at the Petersen Events Center on Feb. 14, 2015. Six Pitt players scored in double figures, led by Sheldon Jeter’s 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Every Panther that played 10 minutes or more shot 50 percent or better from the floor. Brice Johnson scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Kennedy Meeks added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 8-3.

Projected Starters:
0 James Robinson (6-3, 198, Sr.) – 9.4 ppg, 5.3 apg
3 Jamel Artis (6-7, 215, Jr.) - 15.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
2 Michael Young (6-9, 235, Jr.) - 16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg
15 Sterling Smith (6-4, 190, Gr.) - 6.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg
21 Sheldon Jeter (6-8, 225, Jr.) - 8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Top Reserves:
12 Chris Jones (6-6, 213, Jr.) – 5.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg
23 Cameron Johnson (6-7, 200, Fr.) – 4.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg
3 Damon Wilson (6-5, 200, Fr.) – 4.1 ppg, 1.6 apg

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