ACC Quarterfinals: #4 UNC vs #5 Pitt, 2:30 PM(approx), ESPN/ACC Network
At this point, despite winning twelve straight games and salvaging a once lost season, there is an air of uncertainty going into UNC's first game of ACC Tournament play. Part of that is how UNC played during the final three games of the 12-game winning streak and the loss to Duke. The other part is how nearly impossible it is ascertaining how a team will play in a conference tournament. The first couple of days of conference tournament play across the country has seen a lot of good teams get tripped by lower seeds in the first game. In this instance UNC is coming in "cold" to face a Pittsburgh team that rolled over Wake Forest. As conference tournament openers go, Pitt could not have asked for a better one. It was an easy win without much energy expended.
For the Tar Heels, this is the first time UNC has played a game following a loss since January 26th. Not that bouncing back form losses has ever been an issue under Roy Williams. His UNC teams generally win the next game following a loss and when that loss came against Duke, UNC is 9-2 in the following game. The two losses were in 2004 and 2010 against Georgia Tech in, you guessed it, the ACC Tournament.
The real question for UNC is if the Heels can recapture some of that "sense of urgency" magic that carried them though much of the 12 game winning streak but seemed to wane a bit towards the end? The six day break and feeling the sting of losing again should serve to refresh the team physically and refocus them mentally. The other part of the equation is whether James Michael McAdoo can get into that groove of elevated play which carried UNC to the first win over Pittsburgh on February 15th. Marcus Paige's ability to carry this team is well-documented. If he does it with help from McAdoo, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, UNC becomes a tougher out for any team.
This game is two evenly matched opponents with similar strengths trying to negate each otherl. Pittsburgh generally plays a much slower tempo however in UNC's February 15th win the game actually reached 71 possessions, well above the Panther's season average for tempo. Will Pitt be content to run with UNC a bit or take the air out of the ball a bit? Because of UNC's offensive struggles but stellar defense, the more possessions the better in terms of generating enough points to win. Pitt on the other hand can be quite efficient and accustomed to the slower pace. The likelihood is Pitt opts to slow things down and keep a UNC heavy crowd from being too much of a factor.
Pittsburgh has overcome whatever slump the Panthers went through to pull out a win at Clemson then rolls past Wake Forest. Lamar Patterson in particular has been on a tear scoring 20 or more points in three of Pitt's last four games. Pitt also needs a signature win to put away any doubts the NCAA Selection Committee might have about the Panthers' worthiness for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament field.
There is no shortage of stakes in this game and should UNC have any designs on improving the Tar Heels' seeding position for the NCAA Tournament, this is a bit of a must win. Then again, every game is a must win in March.
UNC 73 Pitt 71