Winners of two straight, the Pitt Panthers resume Atlantic Coast Conference play Tuesday night against Notre Dame.
The Panthers have been a different team since losing by double-digits to UMBC, finishing the next five games with a margin of victory or defeat of four points or fewer. Pitt ended the stretch with a 64-55 victory against Jacksonville Dec. 21.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (5-7, 0-1) second ACC game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-5, 0-1).
Femi Odukale guided the Panthers to an ideal Christmas present for their fifth win of the year. Odukale recorded a career-high 28 points against Jacksonville including 17 in the second half.
Odukale’s efficiency and knocking down 5-10 threes should help to build confidence as the Panthers improve their stature. The sophomore guard is averaging 12.4 points, second on the team, and also has played the second-most minutes (30.7) to factor to a 26.7% usage rate.
Toughness and grit has defined Odukale’s 2021-22 season and a surprise for Pitt lacking consistent scoring threats. Growing into a strong complement to John Hugley, Odukale’s ability to drain threes will be a necessary element moving into ACC play and higher-level competition. He continues to make positive strides but ups and downs will more than likely be a quality of growth moving down the line.
Preparing for the ACC
Hosting Notre Dame to propel the bulk of ACC games begins the true defining marks of the season. Losses to The Citadel, UMBC, and Monmouth will sting throughout the year and always be a talking point, but conference games tell the tale of the program’s future.
Head coach Jeff Capel’s team has “won ugly” and fought their way to non-conference wins against lesser opponents, but the ACC is an obvious different beast to slay. Even in a down year for the conference, the ACC still holds some of college basketball’s top talents and most challenging venues to win at.
Notre Dame is a good opponent for Pitt to match up against to begin, especially after playing Virginia close, in a winnable game at the Petersen Events Center. Being at home, Pitt could add an extra boost after Christmas in staying at their own arena.
Lacking positivity in most statistical categories, a shift from beating themselves in bad losses to an uptick in one or two offensive areas can make up for a lack of top-tier talent. Pitt has shown the ability to battle tough against decent teams, and will face the same challenge going into the new year.
Fighting the Irish
Notre Dame has also experienced a subpar season heading into the thick of conference play, losing their only ACC game at Boston College 73-57 on Dec. 3. Winners of two in a row, though, the Irish defeated Western Michigan and Texas A&M Corpus Christi by 10 or more points.
The team takes care of the ball well and ranks in the top 40 in turnovers at just over 11-per-game. A more efficient offense than defense, Notre Dame also shoots over 76% from the free throw line, an area Pitt has struggled in but looked to turn the corner against St. John’s. Mike Brey’s team hits the three ball at a much higher clip than Pitt, with the Panthers ability to keep games close to the final possession a necessary factor once again.
Dane Goodwin and Blake Wesley have been solid guards for the Irish, leading the team in scoring with 15.3 and 12.5 points-per-game, respectively. They also contribute strongly on the glass and shoot a high percentage from the field. Nate Laszewski guides the program with a team-high 7.3 rebounds.
Notre Dame won the last matchup between the two teams 84-58 on Jan. 30.
Notre Dame is favored by 4 points in Tuesday morning’s latest odds.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread. The Panthers have covered nine times in 12 opportunities and have been especially solid the past few games.
The over/under for the matchup against Jacksonville is set at 127 points and Pitt is +150 on the moneyline.
Notre Dame has covered five times this year and is 2-4 when favored by 3.5 or more points.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Notre Dame and Pitt matchup will air on the ACC Network Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt is scheduled to play Virginia Tech to open 2022 on New Year’s Day in Blacksburg at 4 p.m., but the Hookies game scheduled for Wednesday against North Carolina was postponed.