Pitt basketball is off to a 9-4 start to the season, and perhaps more importantly, the Panthers have won each of their first two ACC matchups this season.
After road wins over conference foes NC State and Syracuse, the Panthers are one of just three teams without a loss so far in ACC play.
However, the team’s next four games come against top-tier competition, and will be a massive test for the new-look Panthers.
Up next is North Carolina (Dec. 30), who entered the season as the No. 1 team in America. The No. 25 Tar Heels got off to a slow start this year, but are back in the rankings and sit at 9-4 (1-1 ACC). Hubert Davis’ squad is loaded, with two-time All-ACC big man Armando Bacot leading the way averaging 18+ points and 11+ rebounds per game. Alongside Bacot, the Heels have an exciting back court with RJ Davis and leading scorer Caleb Love, as well as other weapons in Pete Nance, Leaky Black, and Moon native Puff Johnson.
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Then, on Jan. 3, Virginia comes to town with an 8-2 (1-1 ACC) record through ten games. The Cavaliers are currently ranked as the No. 13 team in the nation and look like a classic Tony Bennett squad. Virginia has veterans all over the court, and it plays a well-balanced, slow game of hoops. Fifth-year senior Kihei Clark is still running the point and is currently leading the team in scoring at over 11 points per game. Strong forward Jayden Gardner pairs up with guards Armaan Franklin and Reece Beekman, as well as forwards Kadin Shedrick and Ben Vander Plas (Ohio transfer) to make up the Cavaliers rotation.
After Virginia, Pitt has another tough home test on Jan. 7 when it hosts Clemson, one of the other two teams that is undefeated in conference play so far. The 10-3 (2-0 ACC) Tigers are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.4% from deep as a group. Four of Clemson’s starters are shooting above 41% from three-point range, led by Alex Hemenway, who has hit 50% (27 of 54) of his attempts from outside the arch. With Chase Hunter, Hunter Tyson, PJ Hall, and Brevin Galloway all averaging more than ten points per game, the Tigers have used their strong shooting and scoring abilities to become a threat in conference play.
Lastly, on Jan. 11, Pitt will travel to the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on No. 17 Duke (10-3, 1-1 ACC) in a crucial road matchup. This year’s Blue Devils are led by freshman Kyle Filipowski alongside veteran guard Jeremy Roach. In addition, fellow highly-touted rookies Dariq Whitehead, Dereck Lively, and Tyrese Proctor can break out at any moment for the Devils.
These next four games will be crucial for the 9-4 Panthers. How do you think they’ll do? Comment below.