North Carolina (24-5, 12-3 ACC) vs. Pittsburgh (15-13, 4-11 ACC)
Pittsburgh – Petersen Events Center
"We're getting ready to go on one of those trips that I don't think any team in our league should have to do. We're on the road on Saturday and on the road on Monday. There are three different teams that have had to do that, especially against really good teams. We've got Pittsburgh on Senior Day, Virginia and then we play Duke. I feel good that we're on top, but there's still a lot of work to do." -- UNC head coach Roy Williams
''We played well enough, we were in position to win, we should have won, and we didn't." -- Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings after his team coughed up a 19-point lead at Wake Forest on Wednesday
Heels in Command: UNC’s ability to hold serve at home in ACC play while winning enough on the road has propelled the boys in blue to the top of the league standings. The Tar Heels hold a two-game advantage with three to play, and can clinch back-to-back regular season titles with two more wins or a win against Duke on March 4. Junior wing Justin Jackson continues to make his case for ACC Player of the Year by scoring 20 or more points in seven of his last nine games. He’s third in league play with 19.7 points per game.
Pitt’s Continuing Struggles: The Panthers’ latest loss served as a microcosm of their season, one stocked full of blown leads and missed opportunities in late-game situations. Pittsburgh led by 19 points over Wake Forest before the Demon Deacons rallied for their largest comeback in 18 years. Pitt missed 17 of its final 18 field goal attempts in a game that would have marked its fourth win in five games. The Panthers, who are 3-3 since losing to UNC last month, are tied for 12th place in the ACC standings with Clemson.
Offensive Woes: Kevin Stallings is known for his offensive prowess, and a quick look at efficiency metrics and Pitt’s last game against the Tar Heels would seem to indicate that trend has continued with his move from Nashville to Pittsburgh. Despite possessing two of the ACC’s top three scorers in Michael Young (20.4 ppg) and Jamel Artis (19.3 ppg), Pittsburgh ranks dead last in ACC play in field goal percentage (42.4) and 10th in turnovers per game (11.9). The Panthers’ adjusted offensive efficiency in league play is 105.6 (11th) and their effective field goal percentage is 50.2 (14th), according to kenpom.com.
Matchup to Watch: While strong outings by Young and Artis were expected and delivered in the first matchup between these teams, it was the play of small forward Cameron Johnson that turned the contest into a nail-biter in the final seconds. Specifically, it was Johnson’s 3-point shooting, as his 6-of-9 barrage helped Pitt shoot 44.8 percent (13-of-29) from long range. The Panthers’ perimeter shooting is their best equalizer in games against teams like UNC. Pitt is connecting at a 37.9 percent clip from deep in league play, and four starters are shooting 38.5 percent or better. Even Young, who is a legit stretch four, is efficient from beyond the arc, knocking down 30.8 percent of his attempts in ACC play. UNC's ability to defend the 3-ball will likely determine if the second meeting between these teams is as competitive as the first.
Last Meeting: UNC held off Pittsburgh, 80-78, on Jan. 31, 2017, at the Smith Center. The Tar Heels never trailed and led by nine points with 8:02 to play before the Panthers cut into their deficit with a hot hand from deep. Artis missed a 3-point attempt at the final buzzer. Pittsburgh shot 55.2 percent and made 13 3-pointers. Jackson led UNC with 20 points and Joel Berry added 19.
Series Record: The Tar Heels lead the series, 11-3.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 14.6 ppg, 4.0 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 18.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg
1 Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) - 7.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg
5 Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.) – 7.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg
0 Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) – 4.8 ppg, 2.5 apg
32 Luke Maye (6-8, 235, So.) – 5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Projected Pittsburgh Starters:
1 Jamel Artis (6-7, 215, Sr.) – 19.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg
2 Michael Young (6-9, 235, Sr.) – 20.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg
21 Sheldon Jeter (6-8, 230, Sr.) – 8.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg
23 Cameron Johnson (6-8, 210, So.) – 12.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg
12 Chris Jones (6-6, 215, Sr.) – 7.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
4 Ryan Luther (6-9, 225, Jr.) – 6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg