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The Daily Tar Heel

What to expect when No. 8 UNC men's basketball takes on Pittsburgh

UNC guard Joel Berry (2) goes up for a layup over Cameron Johnson (23) in the final moments against Pittsburgh on Jan. 30. 

UNC guard Joel Berry (2) goes up for a layup over Cameron Johnson (23) in the final moments against Pittsburgh on Jan. 30. 

How do they play?

Pittsburgh (15-13, 4-11 ACC) boasts the 37th-ranked offense in’s efficiency ratings, but the Panthers haven’t been able to mask their defensive deficiencies in generating turnovers or protecting the paint.

Pittsburgh’s efficient offense was on full display in an example of what can happen when the defense does play well — an 80-66 win over Florida State on Feb. 18. Senior Sheldon Jeter scored 29 points, while the team shot over 55 percent from the field and better than 45 percent from beyond the arc.

The Panthers will try to replicate that success Saturday, but they will run into a red-hot team in North Carolina (24-5, 12-3 ACC). Pittsburgh’s stars will have to make a lot of tough shots to keep their team in the game.

Who stands out?

Cameron Johnson, a 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore, scored a game-high 24 points, including six made 3-pointers, in the Jan. 31 loss.

The guard is his team’s third leading scorer this season — averaging 12 points per game — behind Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Like he did the first time his team faced North Carolina, Johnson will need to have an impact on Saturday’s contest to keep Pittsburgh in it.

What’s their weakness?

The Panthers allowed Isaiah Hicks to dominate in the first matchup. The senior forward scored 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field in one of his best performances of the season.

Hicks has struggled the past few games, playing only seven minutes against N.C. State and not scoring against Louisville. In both games, the foul-prone senior spent more time on the bench than on the floor.

On Saturday, Pittsburgh’s best chance to slow down Hicks might be to keep him off the floor. If not, the explosive forward could get back on track with a big performance against the Panthers.

How could they win?

UNC has looked like a defensive stalwart of late, but the Tar Heels have struggled to maintain that defensive dominance against inferior opponents.

Pittsburgh is hovering around the NCAA Tournament bubble and desperately needs a quality win against an opponent like North Carolina to earn an at-large bid. The Panthers’ offense could pose problems for UNC, and the hosts will have to feed off the energy of their home crowd and the desperation of being on the bubble if they hope to upset the ACC’s top team.


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