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Staff Picks: Can Pitt make it five in a row?

The Pitt Panthers come into Friday's ACC opener riding high. Pitt knocked off Northwestern in impressive fashion on Monday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Panthers rolled to a decisive 87-58 victory over the Wildcats in Evanston. Pitt shot 14-of-22 from deep and saw five players score in double figures.

The win over Northwestern was the team's fourth consecutive victory, and for the Panthers to make it five in a row, they'll have to defeat a common thorn in their side. Pitt travels to Raleigh tonight to open ACC play early against NC State. The Wolfpack come into this game with a 7-1 record on the season, perhaps a bit of a surprise as they were picked to finish 10th in the ACC in the preseason

NC State has an impressive team on the perimeter. The guard-oriented team is led by Jarkel Joiner, a 6'1" transfer from Ole Miss. Joiner posts 17.3 points per game and really makes this team click. The Wolfpack also features Virginia transfer Casey Morsell, who is averaging a career-best 14.9 points per game.

Kevin Keatts is in his sixth season as head coach at NC State. Keatts took The Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but they have failed to reach the big dance ever since. Keatts, and his predecessor Mark Gottfried do have one thing in common, and that's a complete domination of Pitt.

Pitt has not had much success against NC State since joining the conference, and really ever, as NC State holds a 21-3 all-time advantage. The Panthers did however win last season's meeting. Can they keep it rolling?

Pitt's dominating win over Northwestern caught all of guard, let's see how the staff sees this one playing out.

Stephen Gertz (6-2): Man, I really want to take the Pittsburgh Panthers here. John Hugley scored 0 points on Monday night, on the road, but everything else came together for Pitt. Jamarius Burton is playing great, Blake Hinson has been a really nice addition and adds a little bit of fire to this team, and I honestly think the tighter rotation is something head coach Jeff Capel is not getting enough credit for, or really any. But I am just not sure I am ready to predict back-to-back road wins for the Panthers. Perhaps I might if their opponent was not a very talented NC State Wolfpack team. They also sport an experienced backcourt with three seniors all averaging in double-figures for points along with the ultra talented Terquavion Smith. Experience is not lacking in their frontcourt either with seniors Dusan Mahorcic and D.J. Burns Jr., both new additions. Can the stars align twice for Pitt, absolutely, but I am taking the home team here in a competitive game.
Prediction: NC State 71, Pitt 66

Jim Hammett (6-2): Pitt showed me a lot in Monday's win over Northwestern. The Panthers played good team basketball, as they assisted 22 times on 26 made baskets. Often times it looks Pitt is almost running through the motions a bit on offense, but not on Monday. The ball kept moving and they kept finding people for that extra look. When this team is on, they can be a dangerous outside shooting team. I think tonight's challenge is a bit more daunting. NC State has good guard play, the game is in Raleigh, and Pitt just never fares well against The Wolfpack. I expect it to be a competitive game, but NC State pulls away late.
Prediction: NC State 76, Pitt 67

Matt Steinbrink (5-3): The dominance in this series by NC State may be playing a part in the line, as the Panthers are 9.5 point underdogs in most places. That is after that domination at Northwestern where they looked really good. If Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott play like that and support Jamarius Burton in the backcourt they will have a chance. That’s because Pitt is not getting much at all from John Hugley inside. If that continues, Capel will need the four guards, including Sabande, to play well. If Hugley can play better, it takes that pressure off. The fact that this game is on the road and how fast and aggressive the Wolfpack are, it is definitely concerning. Would not be surprised at all if this is a close one that is decided in the last couple of minutes, but things normally do not go well at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Prediction: NC State 79, Pitt 71

Houston Wilson (5-3): NC State might be one of the more surprising teams so far early on this season in the ACC as they are off to a really njcr start standing at 7-1. Much of their success has been because of a much improved Casey Morsell who is averaging 15 points per game and shooting 53% from the three point line. With all that being said, Pitt is coming off an incredible performance on the road at Northwestern and showed glimpses of what they could be. This is going to be another big test for Pitt but I think their momentum is going to carry over into Raleigh tonight and they are going to squeak this out.
Prediction: Pitt 78, NC State75

Chris Peak (5-3): I am buying in. I am buying into the 22 assists on 26 field goals. I am buying into the three-point shooting. And I am buying into John Hugley coming alive. That last part is important: I think Hugley's time is coming, and I think he's going to have a little extra something ready for tonight. I think Pitt will look to get Hugley involved early, and I think it will work: he's still Pitt's best player, and it's only a matter of time until he gets going. So take an effective Hugley who draws N.C. State's defensive attention, mix In good passing to the outside and top it off with effective shooters and I think you've got a recipe for success that will lead to a big win on the road.
Prediction: Pitt 77, NC State 70