Two teams fighting for position in the ACC will meet Tuesday night as the Pittsburgh Panthers host the North Carolina Tar Heels. On the road, the Tar Heels are slim 1.5-point favorites with the over/under set at 143.5 points.
Despite multiple postponements, the Panthers were creeping closer to the top of the ACC standings before a disappointing loss to Wake Forest on Saturday. Pitt led by as many as 12 points in the second half but collapsed down the stretch in a 76-75 loss, snapping a three-game winning streak. The Panthers are 4-2 in ACC play and 8-3 overall, playing their way into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are very much on the bubble as well after a rough start to the ACC season. But Roy Williams has managed to weather the storm.
UNC has won five of six games after taking care of business against NC State over the weekend. Of course, at 10-5 overall and 5-3 in ACC play, the Tar Heels need to stay hot if they want to secure a spot in the Big Dance.
Big Man Parade
When the Tar Heels have been at their best this season, it’s usually been the team’s big men carrying the load. North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding thanks to the trio of Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, and Day’Ron Sharpe, who all average over seven boards per game.
Despite Brooks being the ACC preseason Player of the Year, Bacot leads the team in scoring at 12 points per game. Of course, Brooks is more than capable of dominating the paint when he stays out of foul trouble.
Meanwhile, there are a few signs of life from the young UNC backcourt. Caleb Love has 35 points and eight assists over his last two games and is now averaging 10.5 points per game on the season.
Fellow freshman R.J. Davis is also starting to figure things out with four straight games with ten or more points. However, Leaky Black and Kerwin Walton have been less reliable, which is part of the season why the Tar Heels are shooting just 31% from three-point range.
Pitt popping up on the ACC radar over the last couple of weeks has coincided with Justin Champagnie returning from a knee injury sooner than expected. The 6’6’’ sophomore has been an absolute menace since his return. He’s shown no signs of the injury bothering him, averaging 24 points and 12.7 rebounds in the three games since his return.
Champagnie is Pitt’s best player and makes an impact on both ends of the floor. Complementing him in the Pitt backcourt is the duo of Au’diese Toney and Xavier Johnson. The duo averages 16 and 14.5 points per game, respectively.
Both have benefited from Champagnie drawing the attention of opposing teams. Toney is one of the ACC’s most well-rounded guards, while Johnson is one of the league’s more underrated point guards, averaging 6.3 assists per game.
While Champagnie has Pitt surging, he’ll be out-numbered in the paint by UNC’s big men, who are taller and more physical. With strength in numbers inside the paint and young guards who are starting to figure it out, the Tar Heels will stay hot.