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UNC vs. Pitt: Three Things to Watch

Payback is in order as Pitt visits the Smith Center tomorrow night.

NCAA Basketball: Miami (FL) at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine how different we’d feel about the season if Carolina had just won at Pitt. It would have been the fifth win in a row out of an eventual seven. The Heels would only have two ACC losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech, lacking Armando Bacot in both games. But that Pitt loss, it’s there and its stain can’t quite be erased, no matter how hard we scrub.

Since UNC cannot erase history, it will have to make some. In this case, an absolute beat down of Pitt is required to:

  1. Put the shame of blowing a nine-point lead behind them
  2. Move into a tie for third place in the conference standings
  3. Lay a marker down for the Duke game on Saturday.

Here are three things to watch as Carolina hosts Duke tomorrow night in Chapel Hill.

Get Jamarius Burton under control

Pitt guard Jamarius Burton has not eaten the way he ate against Carolina all season. The senior from—you guessed it!—Charlotte, NC is averaging a respectable 16 ppg this season on 52.3% shooting, but went off for 31 points on a highly efficient 14-17 shooting night.

Burton was able to drive into the paint and get to his spots with ease. He also drew three fouls, going 3-5 from the line. Burton missed the only 3-pointer he took. It was a coffee drip scoring performance.

What has Hubert Davis learned from this? What changes will UNC make to ensure yet another North Carolina kid that didn’t get offered by Roy Williams doesn’t go haywire in the Dean Dome? How well Burton is doing will be a barometer for Carolina’s defense, because at Pitt, he got his points way too easily.

What of UNC’s guards?

As Brandon touched on yesterday, it appears RJ Davis will be a go against Pitt. That’s good.

Caleb Love also took advantage of the the space outside of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone to get his shooting back on track, hitting his first three three-pointers en route to an efficient 4-7 shooting night with 15 points.

RJ and Caleb were a combined 2-8 from downtown at Pitt, as the Heels shot a paltry 32% from distance. Hopefully RJ’s black eye has healed enough to give him the dead-aim he’s shown over the last month. Excluding the Syracuse game, he has shot 50% or better in his last six games, including 60+% against Wake Forest and Virginia.

If RJ keeps shooting like that, Pitt loses the game. Throw Caleb into the mix, whose shooting slump has been well documented, but looked smooth and confident against Syracuse in the Dome. Familiar sight lines could be even more helpful.

Bench roulette. Who plays?

Betting on who Hubert Davis will employ off the bench of any given night is a quick way to lose a few bucks. But if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say we’re due for a D’Marco Dunn at Louisville kind of night.

Dunn has the size to defend Pitt’s backcourt and showed good motor against scoring threat El Ellis. If Love, Davis, or Black need a breather or get into early foul trouble, Dunn should be able to keep the intensity on Burton to slow him down, especially when the second half comes around.

I’m still holding out hope that Dontrez Styles will get some run. He has the athleticism to defend and rebound with Pitt, but with an eye on Duke, he can match pace with some of their young athletes. Beating Pitt is a necessity, but I think Carolina can beat them comfortably enough to get some bench minutes for Styles, especially if Puff Johnson is not as close to returning as we hope.