Pittsburgh Panthers' Defense Should Handle NC State in ACC Road Opener

By Ed Morgans
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Panthers make their long-awaited ACC debut on Saturday afternoon when they take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack in Raleigh, NC. It isn’t the easiest of assignments for the Panthers who have cruised through non-conference play with a 12-1 record, losing only in a close game to former Big East rival Cincinnati.

But if the Panthers were going to hand-pick a road game to start life in the ACC, a trip to NC State might be pretty high on their list. No disrespect to the Wolfpack, who are 10-3 in their own right and 8-2 at home (Pitt is 3-1 away), but NC State has at times this season been far too reliant on standout sophomore forward T.J. Warren (23.9 PPG). When Warren isn’t hitting his shots or can’t get his shots, the Wolfpack offense suffers and the team falters. This was clearly seen in NC State’s 68-64 loss to Missouri when the Wolfpack blew a 10-point second-half lead with Warren (24 points) not scoring for the final 12 minutes.

A strong defensive team such as the Panthers, who are giving up a scant 58.6 points per game, should be able to focus in on stopping Warren and bankrupting the Wolfpack offense. Even in Pitt’s lone loss this season, the Panthers only gave up 44 points. Unfortunately for Pitt, its offense didn’t show up that day as Cincinnati captured a 44-43 victory.

Don’t expect such a low scoring game on Saturday (Noon, ESPN3). NC State does average 77.3 points per game, and for the most part the Wolfpack defense has been pretty strong as well. Cincinnati is actually a common opponent for these two teams. NC State played at Cincinnati in the second game of the year, losing 68-57. But Pitt doesn’t have any results as bad as the Wolfpack’s 82-72 overtime loss to North Carolina Central.

Pitt has kept eight opponents this season to 59 points or less. The Panthers feature a sizable front line with 6-foot-8 forward Talib Zanna and 6-foot-9 forward Michael Young. Freshman forward Jamel Artis (6-foot-7) has also been seeing minutes for Pitt. Warren will face a strong challenge if he is going to be effective on Saturday. For the season, 186 of his 233 field-goal attempts have come from inside the three-point line. Pitt also holds an advantage in rebounding. The Panthers are 69th in the nation at 38.6 boards per game while NC State is 151st at 36.5.

NC State guards Anthony Barber and Desmond Lee — the only Wolfpack players to average double figures in scoring — will have to help Warren with the scoring load if they have any chance to conquer the Pittsburgh defense. That duo combined for 32 points on 9-for-23 shooting from the field in NC State’s last game, a close win over UNC-Greensboro.

Defensive effort usually travels well and that will be to Pitt’s advantage in its ACC opener. Unless Warren goes off for 30-plus points or he gets a lot of help, the Panthers should be successful in their opening league matchup.

Ed Morgans is an ACC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @writered21 and add him to your network on Google.

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