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Five Things to Know for Pitt Vs. Wake Forest

Five Things to Know for Pitt Vs. Wake Forest

After seeing its game against Boston College get postponed due to COVID-19 within the Eagles program, Pitt (8-2, 4-1 ACC) will now be facing off against Wake Forest on Saturday.

Here are five things to know before Saturday evening’s 6 p.m. tipoff on ESPN in Winston Salem.

PITT ON WINNING STREAK, RECEIVING NATIONAL RECOGNITION

After two wins over Syracuse and one over Duke, Pitt has won three straight heading into Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. With a 3-0 record and an 8-2 overall record, the program is starting to receive national recognition from media outlets and fans across the country.

“It’s kind of hard not to pay attention to it,” guard Xavier Johnson said. “We’ve all got social media. If you don’t have social media, it comes on the TV. When we walk around to go get food or something, there’s guys praising us, it’s always going to happen. So it’s something we’ve got to get used to. We’ve got to always remain humble and just keep playing like we’ve been playing and always be the underdog.”

Since Jeff Capel has arrived at Pitt, the Panthers have seen improvement every year. Before that, however, they were one of the worst teams in the conference and even the entire nation. With veterans like Johnson, Terrell Brown, and Au’Diese Toney, Pitt has been using those rough years as motivation to climb back to prominence. 

“Back then, it was a young, young team everybody wanted to be in the spotlight,” said Johnson. “We came back and we thought we were that, but we really weren’t. We’ve got to come with the same mentality, We’ve got to come with the same hunger every game and I think we have that this year. We have more experience, we’ve got three guys that have already been through that stage. We’ve just got to let the younger guys know that they all have got to bring it on every game. Now we’re the hunted, right, we’re not the hunters anymore.”

Xavier Johnson (1) January 19, 2021 Photo by David Hague/PSN

Pitt is currently tied for third in the ACC with a 4-1 record. The Panthers are ranked No. 52 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and No. 62 according to KenPom.com’s rankings. Wake Forest, on the other hand, is ranked No. 137 and No. 120 in those two rankings, respectively. 

“We’ve always been the last place team,” Toney said after practice on Thursday. “That’s something to motivate you to look back on. Every time you have a bad practice or something like that, you’ve got to look back on something like that. It feeds you. It feeds your momentum and you want to keep pushing and stay hungry for more.”

In Pitt’s three-game winning streak, it has averaged 79.3 points per game. The Panthers are allowing an average of 69.6 points in those matchups and held Syracuse, the second-highest scoring team in the ACC, to 60 points in the game in the first game between the two on Jan. 16. 

TOUGH START TO THE SEASON FOR THE ‘DEACS

Head coach Steve Forbes and his squad have struggled mightily this season, holding the worst conference record in the league at 0-6. The Demon Deacons overall record sits at 3-6, however, they have not won a game since December, they have lost six straight, and, well, their wins were not very impressive either. 

Early on, they took down Delaware State, Longwood, and Catawba College, all at home to begin the season. Delaware State is currently 0-9 on the season, and ranked No. 337 in the NCAA’s NET rankings (which only consist of 347 teams). Longwood, a member of the Big South conference, is currently 5-12 and sits No. 264 in those same rankings. Catawba is a division two program who Wake Forest only beat by eight in its exhibition game on Dec. 31. 

Wake Forest has since lost six straight, all to ACC teams, including 10+ point losses to both Duke and Louisville, who Pitt has also played. Its last game came at North Carolina, where it lost 80-73 despite 27 point performances from both Daivien Williamson and Isaiah Mucius.

WAKE FOREST FEATURING BALANCED SCORING ATTACK, LITTLE REBOUNDING

Although the two are currently the team’s leading scorers, those 27-point outbursts from WIlliamson and Mucius were pretty surprising. Wake Forest features a very balanced scoring attack, with zero players averaging more than 13.1 points per game and seven of its players currently averaging at least seven points per game.

Somewhere that Pitt will definitely look to play to its advantages in this game will be on the boards. The Panthers currently rank fifth in all of division one in rebounds per game, averaging 43.1. Wake Forest, on the other hand, ranks No. 295 in that same statistic, averaging only 32.56 rebounds per game. The Demon Deacons do not have anyone hauling in more than 5.6 rebounds per game 

Pitt’s leading rebounder, Justin Champagnie, is averaging 13 boards per game, good for second in all of division one and first in the ACC. Rebounding has been one of the team’s biggest strengths this season and will certainly play a major role in the game down in Winston Salem. 

PITT, WAKE FOREST SPLIT LAST YEAR’S MATCHUPS

In last season’s first competition between the two schools, Wake Forest took down Pitt at Petersen Events Center by a score of 69-65. The Demon Deacons were led in that game by Ismael Massoud, Torry Johnson, and Chaundree Brown. The only player of those three that remains on the team this year is Massoud, who is averaging 8.3 points and has come off the bench in four out of nine games. 

The two teams squared off again in the ACC tournament, with Pitt taking home a first round, nine-point victory. In that game, Champagnie scored 31 points and grabbed six rebounds, a similar statline to his most recent game this year in which he posted 31 and 14 in a win against Duke. 

In both of those games, Wake Forest was coached by Danny Manning, who has since been replaced by Forbes. 

PITT COVERS AGAIN, FAVORED ON SATURDAY

Heading into its last game against Duke, Pitt had covered the spread in six of its last seven games. With the outright win over the Blue Devils, Pitt covered the (+4.5) mark in that game and improved its record to 7-3 ATS, now covering in seven of its last eight. 

According to betting website OddsShark, Pitt opened up as four-point favorites for Saturday’s game against the Deacons. Jeff Capel’s squad has gone 3-0 against the spread on the road this season, while Wake Forest has gone 2-2 against the spread at home. While their actual record may not show it, the Demon Deacons have been a solid bet lately, going 4-1 against the spread in their last five games. 

The over/under for this game opened at 142 points. In the win against Duke, the over cashed by eight points. However, the total has gone under in five of Pitt’s last seven games. 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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