Five To Watch: Pitt-Virginia

Whatever happens in Saturday's first ACC semifinal game, it will be history for one team. Virginia is looking for its first ACC Tournament title since 1976. Pitt is looking for its first ACC title game in its first year of the ACC.

* Saturday's first semifinal matchup is pretty fitting. Virginia advances to its first ACC semifinal appearance since 1995. Since that year, the Wahoos have just five wins, including Friday's win over Florida State.

If it feels special as a Pitt fan to get two win in its first two tries in the ACC Tournament, ask any Virginia fan--don't take either win for granted.

One team with 31 years in between the last time it won an ACC regular season title, the other winning its first two games in its ACC Tournament debut. Even if you're an outsider, it must be refreshing to see a couple of new names on the main stage for a semifinal game.

* Don't look now, but Talib Zanna is the most dangerous player in the ACC Tournament right now. After his 17-point, nine-rebound performance in Thursday's opening round, Zanna followed that 19 points against North Carolina, and a career-high 21 rebounds.

In the process, Zanna tied three other players for third-most rebounds in an ACC Tournament game. The record is 23. Zanna did tie the Tournament mark of 10 offensive rebounds, set by Virginia's Bryant Stith against Georgia Tech in 1992.

It will be a tougher matchup for Zanna, going up against Virginia's size inside (6-8 Akil Mitchell, 6-11 Mike Tobey, 6-8 Anthony Gill, 6-8 Darion Atkins, 6-8 Evan Nolte.

With all due respect to Mitchell and Tobey--probable starters for Saturday--Gill, Atkins and Nolte are just as valuable to the lineup as the starters, and each have something dangerous to add to the lineup. Most importantly, very few teams have five 6-8 guys that can provide the quality minutes this tandem can. The result has been the ability to wear teams down, a big factor in why Virginia is the top seed INTs year's ACC Tourney.

However, North Carolina also had more depth inside than Pitt. Early in the second half, Jamel Artis and Mike Young battled foul trouble. Zanna, despite a big game, actually fouled out. In the end, it was nothing more than a footnote.

Again, Pitt is at a disadvantage from a depth standpoint, inside. However, if Zanna continues to play the way he has in these first two games, Pitt will overcome those depth issues inside and win, just as they did on Friday.

* What else do Pitt's first two games have in common? Pitt getting a big jump early on. Against Wake Forest, it was an early 21-9 lead in the first half. Against North Carolina, the Panthers jumped out to a 27-9 lead on North Carolina, large in part to a 19-2 run.

If Pitt does the same against Virginia, it will be equally impressive, if not more. Not to say it will be easy to do. Virginia--like Pitt--is accustomed to playing tough defense and a half-court game. Pitt getting a similar first-half lead against a team with this type of philosophy would be more tough to overcome.

* Maybe North Carolina coming back late against Pitt will be a good thing. It gives Pitt something to work on, but also keeps them in check after an impressive start. The Tar Heels did it because they have the caliber of players that can do it--specifically Marcus Paige's 27 points, coupled with James Michael McAdoo's 15. Virginia, despite the slowed down tempo, has a couple of big-play caliber players in Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon that could do the same. Brogdon is Virginia's leading scorer with 12.7 points a game. Harris is second all-time at Virginia with 253 career three-pointers.

* Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have done everything you would hope a pair of fifth-year seniors would do to this point in the ACC Tournament. Even though Patterson had only 12 points on Friday, he still made his share of big shots. Take for example his 17-footer in the second half that highligthed a 7-0 Pitt run, extending their lead to 48-31 lead over North Carolina, just six and a half minutes in to the second half.

One thing that has plagued Pitt this season has been long scoring droughts. As a North Carolina cut into Pitt's lead, Patterson did what fifth-year seniors are supposed to do--hit a lights out three-pointer, extending Pitt's lead and taking a little steam out of the opposition.

It's one thing when James Robinson scores a career-high 19 points, and Cameron Wright adds another 12--his 19th double-figure game of the season. Often times, if a Patterson or a Zanna has an off-night, it's good to have those type of performances to fill in. When those type of performances supplement what Patterson and Zanna have done in two ACC Tournament games, it's the biggest reason why Pitt is playing in today's semifinal game.

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