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February 14, 2014

Pitt-UNC Preview

Basketball Preview

UNC might be rearing at the bit to play Saturday afternoon after having their rivalry game with Duke postponed by over a week. Or, they might have their entire schedule thrown out of whack.

That's what makes this game against Pittsburgh quite interesting. It's not very often that basketball games are affected by weather and certainly not in the southeast by the likes of snow.

But the snowmageddon brought a halt to one of college basketball's most anticipated nights and now the focus must shift to UNC's first ACC matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers and their top-5 conference scorer Lamar Patterson.

Can UNC refocus on the task at hand or will there be some lingering effects from the weather delays this week? Let's take a look at some of the storylines heading into Saturday afternoon's game.

Worthy Adevsaries Deserve Respect

Pittsburgh is a formidable team that could put a screeching halt to the red-hot Tar Heels' five-game winning streak. UNC is riding high after a rough start to their conference schedule but with just eight regular season games remaining, they'll face their toughest completion over these next few weeks.

The Tar Heels main focus will be slowing down the production of the Panthers' best player, Lamar Patterson. Patterson is in the top-five of the ACC leaderboard in points and assists with his averages of 17 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.

Patterson has struggled a bit over the last two games, shooting a low percentage from the field at just 21 percent and scoring a total of 19 points combined against No. 1 ranked Syracuse and bottom-of-the-pack Virginia Tech.

He might be due for a breakout performance and that's something that has to concern UNC.

This is another chance for Roy Williams to stick J.P. Tokoto on a scorer and see if he can be the kind of one-on-one shutdown perimeter defender he thinks Tokoto can be. If he can stop gambling on defense and getting himself into foul trouble, he's got the skills to do it but hasn't put it together consistently enough.

The Panthers are also really good at sharing the basketball. They come in at No. 20 nationally in assists per game and have two guys, Patterson and James Robinson that average over four assists per contest. The only other team in the ACC that can make that claim is Notre Dame.

Both teams should be highly motivated after both teams had the chance to get a big win on a national stage taken away from them Wednesday night. UNC lost their opportunity due to weather while Syracuse's Tyler Ennis ripped victory out of Pittsburgh's hands with a long buzzer beater to keep the Orange undefeated.

Williams has been pretty good about keeping UNC focused on the task at hand considering how young this team is but they are still a youthful bunch with a wondering eye. Let's see if Pittsburgh gets their full attention Saturday or if UNC comes out sloppy like they did at the beginning of ACC play.


Any good team will take it one game at a time but that doesn't mean the fans should. Half the fun is prognosticating and thus we shall do that here.

With the Duke game postponement, that means UNC will now have the following schedule over the next eight games:

Home against a hungry and angry Pittsburgh, on the road against Florida State in a venue they've had trouble at in the past, at home against Duke, at home against Wake Forest, a team they lost to once this season, back-to-back road games against rivals N.C. State and Wake Forest, hosting Notre Dame and then wrapping it up at Cameron against Duke.

That's a slate of games that can determine if UNC is anywhere from a No. 5 seed to a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament depending on how they handle it.

It's also the type of schedule that will give UNC fans something special to remember in a few years or give them headaches and heartbreak for days to come. Based on the competition their facing, they could pass Duke and Pittsburgh in the ACC standings and get as high as No. 3 heading into the ACC tournament.

A strong showing in Greensboro could produce a drastically different picture for the Tar Heels than the one they are currently painting as an unranked team lurking in the shadows riding a hot streak that nobody nationally is really talking about.

Talib Zanna

Talib Zanna has put up some monster games in the ACC this season. A lot of those performances have come against the conference's elite squads, making them even more impressive.

In two games against Syracuse, Zanna put up 12 points and 11 rebounds the first time out and 16 points, 14 rebounds on Wednesday the second time out. Against Duke he had 11 points and 11 rebounds. He also had a double-double against Wake Forest when he had 16 points and 14 rebounds and in all four of those games combined he had seven blocked shots.

#25/23 Pittsburgh
(20-5, 8-4)
North Carolina
(16-7, 6-4)

Game Day
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Time: 1:00 PM EST
Venue: Dean E. Smith Center (21,750)

Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network & SiriusXM (Sirius 134/XM 190)
Series: UNC leads the all-time series with Pitt, 7-1.
Last Meeting: UNC beat Pitt, 82-62, in Chapel Hill on November 29, 1996.

2013-2014 ACC Standings

Pittsburgh at a glance
Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Nickname: Panthers
Colors: Blue & Gold
Conference: ACC
Arena: Peterson Events Center (12,508)
2012-2013 Record: 24-9 (12-6 Big East)
Last Game: Pitt lost, 58-56, to #1 Syracuse on Wednesday night as Tyler Ennis nailed a game-winning three-pointer for the Orange with no-time left.
More on the Panthers:
Schedule | Stats | Roster
Official Site | Rivals Site

Last starting line-up
(against Syracuse)

C - Talib Zanna
F - Lamar Patterson
F - Michael Young
G - James Robinson

G - Cameron Wright

Statistical Leaders
Scoring: Lamar Patterson (17.0 PPG) Talib Zanna (12.7 PPG)

Rebounding: Talib Zanna (7.9 RPG) Michael Young (4.6 RPG)

Assists: Lamar Patterson (4.4 APG) James Robinson (4.0 APG)

Team Statistics
Points Per Game:
Rebounds Per Game: 36.5
Assist Per Game: 16.0
Field Goal Percentage: .464
3-pt Field Goal Percentage: .345

North Carolina at a glance
Last starting line-up
(against Notre Dame)

F - James Michael McAdoo
F - J.P. Tokoto
F - Kennedy Meeks
G - Leslie McDonald

G - Marcus Paige

Statistical Leaders
Scoring: Marcus Paige (17.0 PPG) James Michael McAdoo (15.0 PPG)

Rebounding: James Michael McAdoo (6.8 RPG) Brice Johnson (6.2 RPG)

Assists: Marcus Paige (4.6 APG) J.P. Tokoto (2.7 APG)

Team Statistics
oints Per Game: 75.8
Rebounds Per Game: 41.1
Assist Per Game: 15.7
Field Goal Percentage: .456
3-pt Field Goal Percentage: .319

Game Notes: Pitt | UNC

It will be interesting to see who gets the start opposite James Michael McAdoo in the frontcourt. It will likely be Kennedy Meeks if the last few weeks have any indication on it but Williams still is persistent that nobody has made that spot theirs. It could still fall on the shoulders of Brice Johnson.

Whoever gets the nod will have to face one of the ACC's better big men and again, he has a propensity for showing up big against the ACC's premier teams. That person will have a chance to make a big statement to their head coach about where they'd like to see their name written on the depth chart going forward based on their afternoon meeting with Zanna Saturday in Chapel Hill.


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