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Preview: UNC to face Pittsburgh at home, looks to earn third-straight win Wednesday

UNC first year guard Caleb Love (2) drives toward the basket during a game against Pitt on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. UNC beat Pitt 75-65. Photo courtesy of Matthew Hawley.

Following a big performance against Florida State in a 94-74 win on Saturday, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will return to the Dean E. Smith Center, where it posts a 13-1 record.

The Tar Heels will face off against a Pittsburgh team that is also on a modest two-game winning streak, coming off of close wins against Florida State and N.C. State.

Pitt currently ranks in the bottom five of ACC teams, but if conference play so far this season has proven anything, it’s that nobody is safe. Here are several things UNC must focus on to be successful against the Panthers on Wednesday.

Apply the pressure early

“We have identified our recipe for success, and the first thing is to get after it on the defensive end,” head coach Hubert Davis said in Saturday’s postgame press conference.

In their Florida State matchup, the Tar Heels allowed the Seminoles to score just 24 points in the first half, holding them scoreless until almost seven minutes into the game. While Pittsburgh doesn’t have the same offensive firepower as the Seminoles, a hot defensive start will allow the Tar Heels to go on an early run and potentially give UNC the opportunity to extend some playing time to its bench.

The defensive pressure applied to FSU allowed for an early substitution of first-year Dontrez Styles, who came into the game at the 13-minute mark and went on to earn a career-high eight points on Saturday. On Wednesday, against a Pittsburgh team that ranks last in the ACC in points per game, there is no reason the North Carolina bench shouldn’t see action. The key, however, is starting the game with stifling man-to-man defense.

Crashing the boards

Exploiting Pitt’s weakness on the glass will be critical in Wednesday’s matchup. The Panthers rank third in the ACC in combined opponent rebounds, while UNC ranks first in rebound margin, as well as combined team rebounds per game. This mismatch on the boards is something the Tar Heels can use to their advantage come Wednesday night.

In Saturday’s win over Florida State, junior big man Armando Bacot led his team with 14 rebounds, while graduate forward Brady Manek followed with five. In Wednesday’s game, with an overall weak Panthers presence on the boards, the Tar Heels should emphasize rebounding the ball as a team, especially on the defensive end.

Against Florida State, UNC had 27 defensive rebounds, which it utilized to total 20 fast-break points on the game. Against the Panthers, the Tar Heels need to take this same approach — rebounding on the defensive end and then getting the ball out quickly to the outlets to push the tempo.

Shutting down Hugley

John Hugley, a sophomore forward for Pitt who leads the Panthers in points and rebounds per game, has shown his dominance from early on this season.

Hugley is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds and is coming off of a 21-point performance against N.C. State, with 13 of those points coming from the free-throw line. Manek and Bacot need to be prepared to step up and help on the Hugley drive, keep their hands up and minimize fouls. The Tar Heels should also consider putting an extra body on Hugley in the post, as his dynamic baseline moves and presence on the offensive boards pose a decent threat.

With a strong initial defensive effort, emphasis on defensive rebounding and a laser-focus on Hugley, the Tar Heels should be able to cruise to an easy victory on Wednesday night.


@dthsports | 

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.