The Pittsburgh Panthers have picked up their first two victories rather easily in the team’s introductory season in the ACC and are now 14-1 on the season. Pittsburgh defeated Maryland and North Carolina State by a combined 32 points and Lamar Patterson is averaging 20.5 points in those two games.
Wake Forest is coming into town on Saturday, and despite upsetting North Carolina last weekend, it should put up little resistance against Pittsburgh. The Deacons were crushed by Virginia on Wednesday and did not carry any of the momentum from the weekend over.
Pittsburgh’s strength starts with the leadership Patterson has given them from the forward spot in his senior campaign. He took over against the Wolfpack in the Panthers’ 15-point comeback and has shot 16-of-28 (57 percent) in his first two conference games.
Wake Forest does not have a singular player that can be expected to lock down Patterson, but the Deacons did show that their team defense can frustrate star players. Marcus Paige was held to only eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Paige also turned the ball over four times and was unable to get as many open looks as he would like. However, Pitt can counter with much better ball control and passing than UNC showed against the Deacons.
The Deacons offer a multitude of players that can be counted on for scoring. Codi Miller-McIntyre leads the team in scoring at 16.6 PPG, but it was forward Travis McKie who posted 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the upset of the Tar Heels. Pittsburgh does have a solid interior defense to contain McKie, but Miller-McIntyre has proven he is also an efficient scorer at the guard spot.
Pittsburgh will have to pick and choose when to double-team down low. This may be a spot where Pitt could falter, but because the team defense is coached to constantly move, it is unlikely that Wake Forest will find many openings.
Pittsburgh also has an advantage North Carolina did not have with the game being played at home in the Petersen Events Center. The home crowd will definitely be ready to roar in the Panthers’ first Saturday ACC game. If Pittsburgh can jump ahead early and let the crowd consume the Deacons, the game could get out of control before Wake even blinks.
This is where the coaching of Jeff Bzdelik will be key. A lot of the planning prior to this match up should be on starting quickly and staying as consistent as possible. Pittsburgh is unlikely to shoot the lights out early, but because coach Jamie Dixon can unleash a terrorizing defense, the Panthers may be able to get easy transition baskets to break the game open.
Pittsburgh definitely wants to pick up this home game because the next two games are at Georgia Tech and at the undefeated no. 2 Syracuse. If the Panthers move to 3-0 in the conference, it is likely that the game against the Orange could be a battle for an early conference lead.