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Pitt Basketball

Five Things to Know Before Pitt vs. N.C. State in ACC Opener

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Following a statement win against Northwestern in the final ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pitt begins ACC competition Friday night. 

The Panthers blew out the Wildcats on the road 87-58 as five players scored in double digits including Blake Hinson (22), Greg Elliot (18), Nelly Cummings (17), Jamarius Burton (14), and Nike Sibande (11). Pitt dominated despite zero points from John Hugley in 14 minutes, still working his way back from injury. 

Pitt turns its attention to Raleigh, North Carolina facing NC State to begin ACC play. Here are five things to know ahead of  Pitt’s (5-3) contest against NC State (7-1). 

Coming Out Party

Searching for a place to spend his final year of eligibility, Colgate transfer and Lincoln Park High School graduate Nelly Cummings decided to come back home to the Steel City. Cummings relied on his ball-handling skills and three-point stroke to carve a dependable role in the Colgate rotation. The 6-foot graduate student entered Pitt as a 35.7% three-point shooter and 79.2% from the free-throw line. Prior to Monday, Cummings scored in double-figures twice, posting 11 against VCU and Fairleigh Dickinson.

In one of Pitt’s toughest early-season challenges, Cummings rose to the occasion. The Pitt point guard totaled 17 points, six assists, and four rebounds. Cummings shot 6-of-8 from the field including 3-of-4 three-point shots, his most made threes all season. 

“It was outstanding,” head coach Jeff Capel explained postgame about Cummings’ contributions. “We were hoping it was a matter of time. He’s a really good player, he hadn’t shot the ball well this year… He was able to make some shots, but also he controlled the game getting a sense of stuff, making good decisions, and being strong with the basketball.”

 Cummings is now averaging nine points and over four assists per game in eight appearances. He has also made all 11 free throws he’s attempted but has not reached the line in half of the season to date. His ability to effectively distribute and handle the ball has made the Panthers a threat in the ACC and provided Capel his best team at Pitt, currently on a four-game winning streak. 

ACC Outlook

Pitt begins ACC play against a solid one-loss NC State team. Overall, the conference is all over the place. Louisville(0-7), Florida State (1-8), and Syracuse (3-4) round out the bottom of the 15 conference teams. Louisville has yet to win a game and lost to teams including Bellarmine, Wright State (who RMU defeated on the road by 21 points Thursday), and Appalachian State all at home by ONE POINT in each game. Since 2015, all three teams have advanced to either the Elite Eight or Final Four, a far cry from the current state of affairs.

NCAA Runner-Up and former No. 1 North Carolina (5-3) has played poorly in almost every game this season, failing to live up to lofty expectations with four returning starters and the addition of transfer Pete Nance from Northwestern. The Tar Heels lost to one-loss Iowa State and No. 18 Alabama – ending in four overtimes – to close the Phil Knight Invitational tournament as well as No. 10 Indiana on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. 

Virginia (6-0) is the only undefeated team remaining before the start of conference play. Miami, NC State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest are all 7-1 while Notre Dame is 6-1. The top eight teams record-wise that play in the ACC are undefeated at home, including Duke (7-2) and Clemson (6-2). The Panthers have a chance to compete for a solid spot in the conference but will be challenged early against a tournament-type team like the Wolfpack. 

“We’ve got to move on to the next play. And that’s getting ready for NC State,” Capel said following the Northwestern win. “We have another road win, it’s our first conference [game], they’re a really good team, so hopefully we can build on this.”

Watching the Wolfpack

Sitting back and letting NC State attack on the offensive end, relying on defensive stops won’t cut it for the Panthers on the road. The Wolfpack are tied for 84th in scoring offense (71 points), shoot over 4.5 percentage points higher than the Panthers (48.2%-43.6%), and make nine triples per game. NC State is off to its best start to the season since the 2018-19 team began the year 13-1. 

One player to keep an eye on is guard Casey Morsell. Morsell shoots over 50% from the field and behind the arc, starting all eight games this season. His 85.7% free-throw mark is also an impressive superlative and he records over 1.5 steals per contest. 

Three others join Morsell in scoring over 10 points per game. Jarkel Joiner leads the team averaging 17.3 points. Terquavion Smith is second at 16.1 points but first in usage percentage (26.9%), minutes (33.9), and assists (5.4). Jack Clark rounds out the quartet by scoring 10.6 points and grabbing 6.6 rebounds. NC State ranks tied for 22nd in the country in steals (10) and tied for 65th in turnovers (11.1). The Wolfpack’s offensive rating of 116.9 is the 30th best in basketball and will be a challenge for Pitt, who does hold the rebounding edge thanks to a plethora of talented forwards. 

Spread, Over/Under

NC State is favored by 10 points in Friday’s latest odds, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The line has shifted on various books, opening at 8.5 points yesterday. 

Pitt finished last year 15-17 against the spread. The Panthers are 4-3-1 ATS this year, according to Covers.com, and covered the past three games against Fairleigh Dickinson, William & Mary, and Northwestern.  The Wolfpack are 5-2-1 ATS and 5-0 at home.

The over/under for the game is set at 146.5 points. NC State is -475 on the money line with Pitt the underdogs at +380. The over has not hit in five of Pitt’s games and six of NC State’s contests.   

Broadcast, Radio Info

The Pitt-NC matchup will air on ACC Network with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Derek Jones and Paul Biancardi have the call. The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan. 

Pitt concludes the three-game road trip in Nashville, Tennessee Wednesday night facing Vanderbilt. The game will air on the SEC Network beginning at 9 p.m.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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