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Game Preview: #12 UNC at Pittsburgh

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Pittsburgh, 12:00 PM, ACC Network

After UNC's defeated Boston College last Saturday, the Tar Heels were facing a what was expected to be a quiet week. The litany of injuries and an arduous schedule had taken its toll. The Tar Heels were looking forward to a week long break from games to rest, recover and practice.

By Sunday morning everything changed with the news that Tar Heel legend Dean Smith had passed away at 83. The loss of the Tar Heel family patriarch had an unmistakable emotional impact on Roy Williams and other associated with the program. While the players never had contact with Coach Smith, there is a ripple effect of sorts, especially given how much it clearly weighs on the head coach. In short it was far from an ordinary week.

It is against this backdrop and coming off a week long hiatus the Tar Heels take the court versus Pittsburgh. There is an air of uncertainty to say the least. If it were just the one week between games, that is a notable enough shift in the normal routine to raise some concerns though in this case the Tar Heels really needed the time off. The added emotional elements of an incredibly sad week for the program and Chapel Hill in general conjures up a question of how the team will respond.

On the flip side, the Panthers are very much in need of another quality win, something they can hang on the resume and get the NCAA Selection Committee to take notice. Pitt's best win to date is a 76-72 win over Notre Dame on January 31st. At 5-6 in the ACC, the Panthers could use another top 20 win to at least get on the NCAA Tournament radar. Pitt is presently 59th in the RPI and lacks a win against the RPI 1-25. Beating UNC would satisfy that need and put the Panthers at 6-6 in the ACC with some winnable games on the schedule.

To do that, Pittsburgh is going to need to be much better on both ends of the floor than they have in ACC play so far. The Panther defense has left a lot to be desired and it is possible Pitt could face UNC without Cameron Wright who missed the loss to Louisville on Wednesday with a sprained ankle. Even without Wright, Pitt still has plenty of weapons. Jamel Artis was last week's ACC Player of the Week scoring 32 points in a win over Bryant and 20 points and 10 rebounds in a win against Syracuse. Michael Young leads Pitt in scoring and has six double-doubles on the season while James Robinson dishes out 5.1 apg to go along with 10 ppg. Pitt is capable enough offensively especially if UNC has a sub-par defensive performance.

Last week, Roy Williams trotted out a new starting lineup with Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks getting the start with J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks coming off the bench. Some of the logic with the change was motivation and some of it the match-up with Boston College. During the past week, that starting lineup has remained the same pointing to the possibility Williams may use it again. The play of Hicks in his first start certainly turned heads with the sophomore showing his potential with 21 points on 7-10 shooting. Regardless of who starts, UNC will need every player contributing at a high level as the Tar Heels enter the home stretch of the regular season.

UNC 77 Pitt 69