The first Saturday slate of ACC basketball games was an interesting one. If you weren’t looking around the scoreboard after Pitt was upset at home by Wake Forest, maybe you should have been.
The Demon Deacons were one of four ACC underdogs that went into the opposing teams’ arenas and won against a favored opponent on Saturday.
While Pitt was on the losing end of such an upset on Saturday, the presence of so many may portend good things for the Panthers when they go on the road this week to visit North Carolina and Miami.
Perhaps this could be the year that Pitt finds some success on the road in this conference. Their last road win in ACC play came back on Feb. 8, 2017, against Boston College.
“I don’t think it’s any magic formula or whatever,” Pitt’s Jeff Capel said about winning on the road.
There might not be any magic required, but there are some preferred actions that surely help.
“I think there’s a toughness, there’s a togetherness, (and) obviously you have to have a certain level of talent,” Capel said. “The belief in each other, the trust in each other. … I think those are the main things of being a good road team.”
Pitt’s young bunch is still learning how to implement all of that into their identity. In the Panthers’ most recent loss against Wake Forest on Saturday at home, they struggled with all three of those things, as they went away from what built them a 16-point first-half lead that they eventually squandered.
With just three days to bounce back and form better habits of toughness, togetherness and a sense of trust in one another, Pitt will travel to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina on Wednesday, who was one of four home losers on Saturday, getting pasted by Georgia Tech.
In past years, playing at Dean E. Smith Center was a much, much taller task than it will be this week.
North Carolina was a top-10 preseason team that has lost five of its last seven games. They are playing without freshman phenom Cole Anthony and four-star guard Anthony Harris.
Pitt is currently ranked No. 84 in the updated NET ranking and No. 82 in KenPom rankings. North Carolina is No. 101 in the NET and No. 58 in KenPom.
Against the Yellow Jackets, UNC trailed 36-12 in the latter half of the first half. Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams said following the game, “It’s the most negative I’ve ever been about myself. … Most negative I’ve ever felt about any team.”
If you hear a coach say that, after your performance on the court, I’d be willing to say that you are going to play a little differently in your next game. Pitt is going to get everything they can handle, regardless of the talent level that UNC puts on the floor Wednesday.
There is also another motivating factor in this matchup for the Tar Heels, as Capel alluded to during his conference call on Monday.
“We know that there is a historical aspect going on right now with Coach Williams,” Capel said. “You know, him (being) tied with Coach (Dean) Smith.”
The two legendary coaches are currently tied for most wins at North Carolina (879), and additionally, with Williams’ next win, he will be the fifth-winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history.
UNC starts a three-star freshman point guard in Jeremiah Francis, who has played in just six games this year (knee injury), shooting guard Brandon Robinson, a four-year role player, and sophomore wing Leaky Black, who is averaging 5.2 points per game.
Pitt’s big men are going to be handling the bulk of North Carolina’s offensive success. Tar Heel forwards Armando Bacot, a five-star freshman, and junior Garrison Brooks are averaging 22.9 points and 16.6 rebounds combined.