lair – Staff picks: Can Pitt pull an upset over UNC?

After a ten day layoff, the Pitt basketball team returns to action today for a noon tip against 25th ranked North Carolina at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt comes into this game with a 9-4 record and a 2-0 mark in ACC play. Last game out, Pitt raced out to a big lead and had to fight off Syracuse for an 84-82 victory.

In that game, Pitt junior forward Blake Hinson posted 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. For that effort he was named co-ACC Player of the Week. Pitt will need another performance like that from Hinson today, as the Panthers welcome in preseason No. 1 North Carolina.

The Tar Heels enter this game with a 9-4 record and are winners of four straight games. Of course, that record feels a bit off considering North Carolina was everyone’s preseason favorite in all of college basketball coming into this season. North Carolina went on an unlikely run to the national championship game a year ago and brought back four starters from that team.

Despite those early season setbacks and a number 25 rankings today, the Tar Heels are very clearly still one of the best teams in all of college basketball. They are led by second year head coach Hubert Davis, who took over for the legendary Roy Williams. North Carolina features perhaps the best ‘Big 3’ in college hoops with big man Armando Bacot and the backcourt tandem of RJ Davis and Caleb Love.

Of course, Pitt beat the Heels in Chapel Hill last season by a score of 76-67. Can Pitt knock off Carolina for a second straight season? The staff makes their predictions below.

Stephen Gertz (9-4): I am going with the Pittsburgh Panthers here. The UNC Tar Heels are one of the few teams that are going to have a player that can effectively matchup against Blake Hinson in Leaky Black. I also think they are going to have a size advantage inside that Pitt is not likely to have an answer for. So why am I picking the Panthers? They are shooting the ball really well from the outside, which is going to keep them in the game, and UNC does not defend the three-point line very well. The Tar Heels are allowing their opponents to shoot 35% on triples, which is just slightly below Pitt’s average on the season. Also, UNC does not force a lot of turnovers which is the one thing the Panthers are not doing a good job of at the moment – taking care of the ball. If Pitt can set up their defense early, commit to crashing the boards as a team, and take quality shots they have a real chance to win this one. If this is the game that RJ Davis and Caleb Love finally start shooting the ball well from beyond the arc then all bets are off.
Prediction: Pitt 75, North Carolina 71

Houston Wilson (9-4): Pitt welcomes in UNC on Friday night for a big ACC matchup. Pitt is off to a nice start in ACC league as they are 2-0 but the competition will step up a level with UNC coming in. Pitt is still in need of that resume building win and this is a game that would fit that bill. Stopping Armando Bacot will be important for Pitt but stopping Blake Hinson of Pitt will be important for UNC and I’m not exactly sure they will. I am expecting a close one throughout with Pitt squeaking by.
Prediction: Pitt 79, North Carolina 76

Matt Steinbrink (8-5): Believe it or not, the Panthers have actually played well in this series recently. The overall series favors North Carolina 15-5, but the majority of those wins came from pre-2000. So despite there being a large gap between the two programs, it has been a fairly competitive and balanced matchup. This year’s game should be a good one, as Pitt is better and North Carolina is one of the most talented teams in the country. With that being said, something seems off at the moment. Like Pitt, they are just 9-4 as well. It is a good offensive team with firepower, but they have really struggled on the defensive end. The tip time for this game is also strange, on a Friday at noon right before the New Year holiday. The Panthers are actually the more dangerous team from outside, but they do not have the athleticism across the board that the Tar Heels do. It would not surprise me if Pitt upset them because they are extremely confident right now, but I just think the Davis-Love-Bacot trio will be too much. Bacot was in foul trouble when Pitt beat North Carolina on the road, and I think he will be a much bigger factor this time around.
Prediction: North Carolina 73, Pitt 66

Jim Hammett (8-5): Pitt’s effort in Syracuse last time out was both encouraging and frustrating. The Panthers controlled the Orange for 32 minutes, but did not handle pressure well when Syracuse started making its run and nearly squandered a game they led by 20 points. Pitt did not play a lot of bodies in that game and seemed to wear down late, and North Carolina is a team that can wear you down, not necessarily with depth, but with how they play. The Tar Heels always play with great pace and tempo and they are good at drawing fouls. I’m worried if Pitt has enough size to handle Armando Bacot for 40 minutes especially with the unknown status of John Hugley. I believe the Panthers will keep it close with their outside shooting, but this North Carolina team has final four potential and I think they will ultimately pull away late.
Prediction: North Carolina 79, Pitt 72

Chris Peak (9-4): Live by the three, die by the three. That’s the mantra right now, and it is more or less how Pitt has played so far in the 2022-23 season. So for the final game of the 2022 calendar year, that’s the question: will the Panthers live by the three or die by the three against North Carolina today? UNC is vulnerable to three-point shooting, allowing the second-highest three-point percentage in the ACC and giving up the third-most three-pointers of any team in the conference. In the Tar Heels’ four losses, Iowa State, Alabama, Indiana and Virginia Tech combined to shoot 38.9% from three, and that number was brought down by Indiana going 3-of-13; the other three teams that beat UNC this season went 32-of-77 from beyond the arc – a 41.6% rate that would, in my opinion, almost guarantee victory for Pitt today if the Panthers can match it. The toughest matchup here is Armando Bacot, UNC’s double-double machine who will be a real challenge for Federiko Federiko. I don’t think Pitt will contain Bacot, but if the Panthers can stay above 35% from three today, they will win this one.
Prediction: Pitt 83, North Carolina 80