Staff picks: Can Pitt keep it rolling?
The Pitt basketball team has won three games in a row and starts the new week with a 4-3 record. The task awaiting them tonight is a bit stiffer than what they faced last week. Pitt will travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
On Monday it was announced that this will be the final year of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Panthers have have participated in the even eight times prior to tonight and have a 4-4 record. Pitt did play Northwestern in the 2020 ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and came away with a dramatic 71-70 win in Evanston on a Justin Champagnie dunk in the closing seconds.
Northwestern is led by 10th year head coach Chris Collins. He led Northwestern to its only NCAA Tournament appearance ever during his tenure and has the Wildcats off to a 5-1 start this year. Northwestern is led by a quartet of platers averaging double figures with senior guard Boo Buie leading the way. The Wildcats are not a fast-paced offensive team, and this may be more of a grind-it-out style of game.
Pitt did not have a strong week in Brooklyn with losses to Michigan and VCU, but they bounced back and have won three straight games. Tonight's game is a big challenge, as they have played well against teams from smaller leagues but when they have faced fellow power-five competition — Michigan and West Virginia, Pitt was hardly competitive.
Can Pitt pull an upset tonight? The Panther-Lair.com staff gives their picks.
Stephen Gertz (6-1): This could be a close game between two teams that are not offensive juggernauts. On the Pittsburgh Panthers side, they are rebounding their own misses quite well and converting their two-point attempts. However, against the only other Power 5 teams they have played this year - WVU and Michigan - they are only averaging 7 offensive boards and have shot less than 43% in both contests. The Northwestern Wildcats are significantly better on the defensive end than both those teams. They protect the rim better than every team in the country and turn teams over at a high rate. Additionally, they are very good at defending the three-point line and Pitt tends to launch a few too many from that distance as is. Northwestern may not blow the Panthers out, but I am not sure Pitt has the offensive disciple to really threaten. I would like their chances a little more if they were not playing so poorly on defense themselves. This will be a big step up from the their last three games and I am not sure they are ready for this one.
Prediction: Northwestern 65, Pitt 53
Jim Hammett (6-1): I am encouraged by Pitt's recent winning streak. I know the competition hasn't been that great, but they have gotten John Hugley back into the swings of things. Freshman Jorge Diaz Graham is starting to look pretty good with some extended playing time. Those are both positives, but the fact of the matter is Pitt has been absent in both games against power-five competition this year. Northwestern does not seem like a great team, but it's a step up from Alabama State and Fairleigh Dickinson. This is also the first of three-straight power-five opponents for Jeff Capel's team. They are set to play NC State this weekend and Vanderbilt next week. Pitt really needs to show signs they can compete against peer competition, and I think they will do that tonight. Northwestern can defend, so I'm thinking it will be a game where every possession counts. Pitt shows improvement, but I don't think they will get the win.
Prediction: Northwestern 67, Pitt 60
Matt Steinbrink (5-2): This Northwestern team is very experienced. It is one of the oldest lineups Pitt will see this season. It is a vulnerable team and I think Pitt can have success in a few ways, but it will not be easy. The guard play is always a significant edge in college basketball, and I think Northwestern’s are just playing better at the moment. After shooting 2-24 from three against Auburn, I can’t imagine that they don’t have a much better night shooting the ball. Pitt has owned this matchup recently, but I think Northwestern steals a close one here.
Prediction: Northwestern 71, Pitt 65
Houston Wilson (5-2): Pitt has an opportunity to get a power five win tonight which is something they have failed to do so yet this year. I think this game is going to be fairly close from start to finish as both teams are going to try and grind eachother out. Ultimately I think Pitt has the more talented roster but I just don’t have confidence in picking Pitt on the road.
Prediction: Northwestern 77, Pitt 68
Chris Peak (5-2): I am close to picking Pitt In this game, but I still have to see the Panthers put together a full game. If they can play for two halves tonight like they did in the second half against Alabama State or Fairleigh Dickinson or William & Mary, then they can absolutely win this game. That's a Pitt team that is active on defense and aggressive on offense, and that Pitt team can give most opponents a considerable challenge. But the first halves of those three games have me concerned. If the Panthers come out tonight with another slow first half, they probably won't be able to make It up against a Northwestern team that shoots a decent amount of three's and defends beyond the arc pretty well. This game Is a big opportunity for Pitt: can the Panthers be a 40-minute team? If they can, they've got a great shot to win. I just need to see It first.
Prediction: Northwestern 69, Pitt 60