basketball Edit

Matchup preview: Pitt takes on NC State

It is only the second day of December, but the first conference game is already here for Pitt and NC State. Both teams have both played eight games thus far, with the Wolfpack sitting at 7-1 and Pitt 5-3. It was an ugly 1-3 start for Jeff Capel before his team has run off four straight wins. The most recent performance being an extremely impressive dominant win over Northwestern.

Not a whole lot was expected out of Kevin Keatts' program this season, but they look to be a dangerous team. The only blemish on the resume is a close loss to Kansas. They do not have a great win yet, but have defeated Dayton and Butler. There is one common opponent thus far between Pitt and NC State in William and Mary, and the Wolfpack beat them by 21.

Last season was a struggle for NC State, as they went just 11-21 overall. They returned 43% of the minutes and 40% of the scoring from that team, as it is a much different group. This is a high scoring group who plays up-tempo and fast, while playing extremely aggressive on the defensive end. As a team, they average almost 10 steals per game with four different players averaging 1.6 or more steals per game. The Wolfpack shoot 48% from the floor, 74% from the line, and 37% from three. They average nine made threes per contest as well.

This particular series has been about as lopsided as it gets. NC State has dominated, owning the all-time edge by a margin of 20-3. Before last season, they rattled off 12 consecutive wins. Even when Pitt had better teams, they could just not figure out this matchup. The recruiting dominance was also on NC State's side, although that element has dissipated a bit over the years.

Let's look at how this year's conference opener looks.

Jarkel Joiner vs. Nelly Cummings

Joiner has played a ton of college games and is in his fifth season after plenty of experience in two years each at Cal Bakersfield and then Ole Miss. The 6'1" senior guard from Oxford, MS has been electric thus far. After averaging double figures in every college season, Joiner now leads the team in scoring at 17.3 per. He is also contributing 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists. The shooting numbers from the floor are very strong as well; 51% from the floor, 85% from the line, and 39% from three. He has ten made threes in seven games, so his game is mostly off the bounce and all over the place inside the arc. Joiner puts a ton of pressure on your defense, as he has a knack for getting to the line. He has already attempted 40 free throws this season. Against Florida International, he scored 26. Then he followed that performance with 27 against Dayton later on. Cummings had his best game as a Panther against Northwestern, going for 17 points and 6 assists. His overall performance was exactly what this staff was waiting for. When he plays like that, this is a different Pitt team. Now the question is, can he duplicate and maintain in conference play?

Advantage: NC State

Terquavion Smith vs. Jamarius Burton

Smith is the lone sophomore and non senior in the starting lineup. The 6'4" guard burst onto the scene last year to average over 16 points per game in the ACC as a freshman on a bad team. This year, he is looking to do the same but with more team success. In his second season, Smith is averaging 16.1 points, 3,3 rebounds, and a team high 5.3 assists. On the defensive end, he leads the team with 2 steals per game. His shooting numbers are not extremely efficient, as he only converts 39% from the floor and 33% from three. However, he is a very dangerous threat. He is second on the team with 21 makes from behind the arc. Smith has reached double figures in all eight games, and has fit in nicely with the new additions. Jamarius Burton has been just as consistent, reaching double figures in all seven of his appearances this season. This is a high level matchup here between two productive guards and the result of this matchup could determine which way this game goes.

Advantage: Even

Casey Morsell vs. Greg Elliott

Morsell is one of the extremely rare transfers within a conference. The 6'3" senior spent two seasons at Virginia, before playing 30 games last season for NC State. Morsell was always known for his defensive ability and played his role well at Virginia, but is now developing his offensive game also. He only averaged around 7 points per game last season, but may be breaking out as part of the three guard lineup. Morsell already has three 20+ point games this season, including a 21-point and 8-rebound performance against Kansas. He has developed his outside shooting to the point of 53% from behind the arc and leading the team with 25 makes. Morsell is now truly a three and D player it seems. Greg Elliott broke out a bit and made 3 threes in the Northwestern win. Both of these players can knock down shots, but Morsell is the better defender.

Advantage: NC State

Jack Clark vs. Blake Hinson

Clark is a 6'8" senior transfer that spent his first three seasons at LaSalle. He broke out a bit as a junior, averaging 12 and 5.8 last season. This year, he is posting another very solid stat line at 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. Clark is a thin, undersized forward with solid athleticism. His 2.1 steals per game average shows his ability to use his feet to offset some strength disadvantages. He is not a great three-point shooter, but he has made 11 this season at a 31% rate. This matchup will feature two undersized forwards that play a different style. On Pitt's side, Hinson has been electric. Against Northwestern, Blake had it all going with his 22-point, 8 rebound, and 5-assist performance. This is a close matchup that could go either way, but Hinson's confidence is off the charts at the moment.

Advantage: Pitt

D.J. Burns vs. John Hugley

Burns is a big 6'9" senior transfer that spent three seasons at Winthrop. He averaged 15 points per game last season and when you are that size and average 15 points anywhere, you are in high demand in today's college game. Burns has basically been a split starter in the ACC thus far, averaging just 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in shared minutes. Shared minutes is exactly what John Hugley has seen as he works back from his knee injury. Just as it appeared as though he was on his way back, he had a huge no show against Northwestern. He played just 14 minutes and didn't score in the game. He did not appear comfortable in the game at all. There still needs to be come conditioning work for him to get back in shape, but you have to wonder where he is right now mentally. If Hugley is anywhere close to right, he can gain back the edge here and Pitt needs it.

Advantage: Pitt

Bench

Kevin Keatts will go to eight or nine guys, but it is basically an eight-man rotation. 6'10" senior Dusan Mahorcic is the main reserve and the other shared starter at the center position. He spent time at Illinois State and Utah and is a skilled player that can be a handful up front. 6'2" freshman guard LJ Thomas is the main back court reserve, and he averages 3.2 points. 6'9 sophomore Ernest Ross will play when there are issues in the front court, but he only averages 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds. 6'0" guard Breon Pass and 6'8" Greg Gantt, a former Pitt target, may make an appearance but have done nothing thus far. Nike Sibande has really come on and given Pitt a quality sixth man. Before his recent surge, the bench was a very dark place. The Diaz Graham twins have been active, and Santos will flash, but Nike has become a reliable part of the rotation for Coach Capel. Both benches are about the same as far as quality and quantity with Mahorcic and Sibande negating any advantage.

Advantage: Even

Kevin Keatts vs. Jeff Capel

Keatts is in his sixth season already as well, with his tenure at NC State being inconsistent. The first three seasons in charge all produced 20 or more wins. It appeared as though the hire was in fact a home run and that his success would transfer to the ACC. With that being said, it has fallen off a bit since. Last season was a disappointing 11-21 record and the program has struggled to find its footing. Still, he is 97-69 overall at NC State after a 72-28 mark at UNC Wilmington. A season or two in today's landscape can get away from a coach at times, but we will see soon which way this may be headed in Raleigh for Keatts.

Advantage: NC State