The UNC Tar Heels take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in an ACC matchup featuring two teams still trying to find their groove.
TV Schedule: January 8th, 2020 / 7:00 PM EST / ACC Network
Location: Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The UNC Tar Heels are struggling without freshman guard Cole Anthony. In their last game, the Tar Heels lost by 13 points to Georgia Tech. The score does not tell the entire story. The Tar Heels missed their first 15 shots before finally hitting one. That drought, coupled with UNC missing its star player, was insurmountable for the Tar Heels.
All hope is not lost for the Tar Heels. Junior Garrison Brooks tried to put the team on his back. Brooks shot 9-18 from the field including 17-18 from the free throw line. Brooks put up 35 points and 11 rebounds. On the season, Brooks is averaging 13.9 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game on 52.9% from the field and 69.9% from the free throw line. It’s too early to tell if Brooks has turned a corner.
He has been known to disappear during games, especially a three-game stretch in late November – early December. In those three games against Oregon, Ohio State, and Virginia, Brooks averaged only 7.7 points per game and only took six shots per game. This is indicative of Brooks deferring to others on the offensive end but, with Anthony out, Brooks will need to be more assertive like he was in the Georgia Tech game if UNC wants to have continued success.
The Pitt Panthers have shown some glimpses of success under second-year head coach Jeff Capel. The Panthers are coming off of a sub-.500 year which saw only three conference wins. In year two, Capel’s team defense has improved by eight points. In 2018-19, the Panthers were giving up 68.7 points per game compared to 60.4 points per game in 2019-20.
The Panthers feature four guards averaging over ten points per game; sophomore Trey McGowens, sophomore Xavier Johnson, junior Ryan Murphy and freshman Justin Champagnie. Junior Ryan Murphy is their biggest three-point threat. Murphy has shot 35% from 3 point range this year on almost six attempts per game. Xavier Johnson is close behind although he takes about three fewer three-pointers per game compared to Murphy. On almost three three-point attempts per game, Johnson is hitting 40.5% of them.
The Panthers three-point shooting will be key in this game as they will have almost no inside game against a much taller Tar Heels team. The UNC Tar Heels will start at least three players measuring at 6 foot 7 inches and taller. Pitt’s tallest player providing key minutes, Terrell Brown, averages only 18.7 minutes per game. The Panthers quartet of guards measures in at 6’3’’ (McGowens), 6’3’’ (Johnson), 6’2’’ (Murphy) and 6’6’’ (Champagnie). Obviously, a very big discrepancy in size between the two teams which can be mitigated by the Panthers by being efficient in their three point shooting.
The UNC Tar Heels have the advantage in size and talent. The Panthers, however, can overcome both deficiencies by relying on their three point shooters throughout the game. All the Panthers need is for one guard to get hot and points could rain down quickly. The Tar Heels are without their star and the next player up, Garrison Brooks, needs to show more consistency in his performances in order to truly become an impact player down the stretch for the University of North Carolina.
Prediction: Panthers 82, Tar Heels 76