UNC at Pittsburgh Preview

No. 25 North Carolina (9-4, 1-1) at Pittsburgh (9-4, 2-0)
Pittsburgh – Petersen Events Center
Friday, Dec. 30 – Noon
ACC Network (Doug Sherman, Chris Spatola)


“They just kicked our tail. They were more physical than us. They beat us to every loose ball. They beat us to every spot. They were more physical with us defensively. They got every rebound. They just beat us in every area last year here. … They always bring a sense of confidence and physicality out there on the floor. And to have a chance against them, you’re going to have to bring that yourself.” — UNC coach Hubert Davis on the Tar Heels’ 76-67 loss to Pitt last season at home in the Smith Center.

“All of us in the locker room feel like those were games we were supposed to win. We’re still a talented team. I think we’re the most talented team, but now we’re just really trying to tighten those screws and just get better and better every day at our weaknesses. Once we keep chipping away at that and chipping away at that, I think we can reach our full potential.” — UNC big man Armando Bacot on the Tar Heels’ winning streak, extended to four straight victories after overcoming Ohio State in overtime and out-toughing Michigan in another tussle down to the wire.

Pregame Notes

End of the Road: Back in the AP Top 25 after being unranked in the previous three polls and coming off an eight-day holiday break between games, North Carolina has completed the non-conference portion of its regular-season schedule. Friday afternoon’s road assignment at Pittsburgh marks the first of 18 straight ACC games for the Tar Heels.

While it’s a matchup that returns UNC to ACC competition, Friday also represents the end of a demanding stretch. From Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving Day) through Dec. 30, the Tar Heels will have played 10 games, and only two of those contests will have taken place in Chapel Hill, NC Home games against Wake Forest and Notre Dame are next on the schedule, after UNC plays at Pitt, one of the early unbeaten teams in the league.

Back in a Big Way: Bacot’s return from the bruised right shoulder that limited him in UNC’s loss at Indiana and kept him from playing in the loss at Virginia Tech four days later, has coincided with the Tar Heels’ winning streak. And the star big man has been delivering at a productive clip.

Bacot has averaged 22.3 points and 11 rebounds across the last four games, while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. He supplied 28 points and 15 rebounds in UNC’s overtime victory over Ohio State in New York, and then 26 points in the defeat of Michigan in Charlotte. He’s 22-for-34 from the field in the last two games, the first time a UNC player has hit 11 field goals in back-to-back games since Brice Johnson did so against Tulane and UCLA in December 2015.

Homecoming Game: Pitt connects plenty of family ties for UNC forward Puff Johnson, who’s from Moon Township, Pa., about 20 miles from the Petersen Center. Johnson’s father, Gilbert Johnson, played in college at Pitt from 1988-90. Johnson’s brother, Cameron Johnson, played for the Panthers for three seasons, before joining UNC as a grad transfer and becoming a first-team All-ACC standout during his two seasons with the Tar Heels from 2017-19.

Puff Johnson is contributing 3.6 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game off the UNC bench this season. He grabbed a season-high six rebounds against Michigan, although his scoring has seen a dip with a total of eight points in the last five games.

UNC forward Leaky Black and Pitt forward Blake Hinson. (Photo: Inside Carolina / Pitt Sports Info)

Tidbits on Pitt: The Panthers are seeking to open ACC league play with three wins in a row for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Pitt has beaten NC State (68-60) and Syracuse (84-82), both on the road. Pitt is 8-1 with a plus-6.2 scoring margin over the last nine games. The Panthers have four victories by 20 or more points in that stretch. Pitt’s 8-1 record since Nov. 20 is tied for ninth best in the NCAA.

Pitt has connected on 10 or more 3-pointers in six of his last nine games and is averaging 10.1 makes from beyond the arc during that span. The trio of Jamarius Burton, Greg Elliott and Nelly Cummings has hit a combined 53-for-120 from 3-point range in that stretch. Pitt leading scorer Blake Hinson has eight games of 15 or more points and four outings with 20 or more points. He ranks sixth among ACC players in scoring (17.2 points per game) and eighth in rebounding (7.4 boards per game).

Battle on the Boards: Pitt leads ACC teams in rebounds (40.5 per game), while ranking second in offensive rebounds (12 per game), defensive rebounds (28.5 per game) and rebound margin (plus-6.9 per game). The Panthers have out-rebounded their last three opponents (Sacred Heart, North Florida and Syracuse) by a 141-88 margin, or plus-17.7 per game, and have won the rebounding battle in nine of their 13 games.

Meanwhile, UNC ranks among the ACC’s top three teams in rebounds (second, 40.4 per game), defensive rebounds (first, 29.5 per game) and rebound margin (third, plus-4.6 per game).

Last Meeting: Pitt won 76-67 on Feb. 16, 2022, after UNC’s second-half comeback attempt fizzled. The Panthers led 40-23 at halftime, the third-largest such deficit ever for the Tar Heels at home in the Smith Center, and went ahead by 21 in the second half. UNC shot 27.6 percent from the field during the first half, its worst rate in a half at home last season, before doubling that to 55.2 percent shooting during the second half.

Caleb Love’s 19 points and Brady Manek’s 12 points and 10 rebounds topped the Tar Heels’ contributions. Bacot went 2-for-6 from the field and finished with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. That marked the fifth and final time last season when he did not score double digits in a game.

All five Pitt starters scored in double figures, led by Ithiel Horton’s 19 points — he hit 5-for-5 from 3-point range — and John Hugley IV’s 18 points. The Panthers used eight players while beating UNC last season, and only two of those are on their roster this season, Hugley and Jamarius Burton.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series 15-6, including 8-5 since Pitt joined the ACC. The Panthers have won three of the last four meetings, after beating the Tar Heels in the only game between the teams last season.

UNC is 6-2 in Pittsburgh, including 3-2 at the Petersen Center. The Tar Heels won 75-65 in January 2021 during their last game at Pitt. Bacot, then a sophomore, had 21 points and 10 rebounds UNC connected on 60.7-percent shooting from the field in the second half that night.

Projected UNC Starters:
1 Leaky Black (Gr., 6-9, 205) — 6.5 ppg, 6 rpg
2 Caleb Love (Jr., 6-4, 200) — 18.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.8 apg
4 RJ Davis (Jr., 6-0, 175) — 15.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.1 apg
5 Armando Bacot (Sr., 6-11, 235) – 18.2 ppg, 11.1 rpg
32 Pete Nance (Gr., 6-11, 230) — 11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg

Projected Pitt Starters:
0 Nelly Cummings (Gr., 6-0, 185) — 11.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.8 apg

2 Blake Hinson (Jr., 6-7, 235) — 17.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg
3 Greg Elliott (Gr., 6-3, 180) — 11.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg
11 Jamarius Burton (Gr., 6-4, 200) – 14.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.5 apg
33 Federico Federico (So., 6-11, 220) — 6.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg

UNC Info
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Pitt Info
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