Pitt men’s basketball is home Tuesday night for the fifth and final home game of this extended stretch to start the 2021-22 season.
The Panthers ended a two game losing streak against The Citadel and West Virginia to beat UNC Wilmington and Towson, but struggled against a strong defensive Vanderbilt team and dropped one to UMBC 87-77.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (2-4) matchup against the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-0).
In Need of Answers
The Panthers are struggling to find positives after losing to UMBC, weeks after losing to The Citadel in the season opener. Pitt has continued to frustrate the fan base and themselves with their inconsistent play and quality of basketball taking the Petersen Events Center floor.
Minnesota is no pushover and provides Pitt with its toughest challenge since West Virginia, struggling against lesser opponents since. For the Panthers, if they can block out the noise and play a tough defensive game, especially due to their lack of offense, they’ll have a chance to compete.
Things have looked bleak the past few weeks for the program in desperate need of a turnaround and answers to numerous questions. All can’t be answered at once. Despite sounding like a broken record, an identity needs to form if this team has any chance of competing in ACC play this year, and handling Minnesota it’s first loss would be a stepping stone towards it.
Rebound to Stick Around
Pitt’s only strong suit this year is rebounding on both ends of the floor. Part of this is the lack of consistent guard play, though Femi Odukale is playing well, leading to more opportunities down low for big men like John Hugley and others.
The Panthers remain bottom of the pack in turnovers, steals, three-point field goals, and defensive rating. Rebounding and capitalizing on fast breaks could keep Pitt around to cause damage. Minnesota is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country at 3.4 boards-per-game.
Battling a second two-game losing streak, Pitt needs a collective effort to get out of its recent rut. Taking the ball and not giving it away like presents during the holiday season can bring season’s greetings to Pitt fans already expecting coal in their hopeful stockings.
On the Golden Gophers
Minnesota begins the 2021-22 season 5-0 but has not been tested yet by a legitimate tournament contender. They defeated UMKC and Western Kentucky at home, before winning their only road game so far at Princeton by seven, their toughest non-conference foe during the five games.
The Golden Gophers crushed Purdue Fort Wayne back at home and took care of Jacksonville as well leading out to Tuesday’s contest. Minnesota has won all the games they were expected to with their closest game being a four-point win against WKU.
An efficient offensive team, Minnesota shoots just under 47% from the field but struggles compared to Pitt on the glass. They take care of the ball and take it away from opposing offenses at a high rate, creating eight steals compared to just over 11 turnovers of their own.
Jamison Battle is a force to be reckoned with averaging 17.8 points and 6.2 rebounds-per-game alongside Payton Willis averaging 16.6 points. This one-two punch will be tough for Pitt to defend against especially trying to find confidence in their game.
Minnesota is favored by 2.5 points in Tuesday morning’s latest odds.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread. The Panthers are 2-4 against the spread, and record wise, early on this year.
The over/under for the Panthers’ fifth-straight home game is set at 128 points.
Minnesota has covered four times against the spread this season.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Minnesota and Pitt matchup will air on ESPNU Tuesday night beginning at 7 p.m.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt faces Virginia on the road Friday at 8 p.m. and airs on the ACC Network and 93.7 The Fan.