UNC Basketball vs. Pitt: Game info, preview and more

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 10: Kenny Williams
CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 10: Kenny Williams /

The UNC Basketball team heads to Pitt for their first ACC game of the season as they look to get off to a good start and get a win

The start of Atlantic Coast Conference play is finally here.

After two long months of non-conference play, the North Carolina Tar Heels officially begin ACC play on Saturday with a road game at Pitt. This will be the first of two road games to begin conference play for the Tar Heels, with the other coming next week against a ranked NC State team.

The Tar Heels will certainly be tested by opening up with two games on the road but getting two wins will be huge for them in ACC play.

On Saturday, the Tar Heels will take on a Pitt team that is 10-3 overall with losses at Iowa, at West Virginia and then at home against Niagara. It wasn’t a tough non-conference schedule for the Panthers and now they begin ACC play with a nationally-ranked UNC team.

This is the first ACC game for former Duke assistant Jeff Capel who is now the head coach at Pitt.

Pitt has sold out the game on Saturday, marking the first time in the short Capel-era they have done so. It should be an exciting environment to play in and UNC will need to get out to a lead early to silence the crowd.

In years past, the Tar Heels have struggled in ACC openers. The Tar Heels have lost five ACC openers under Roy Williams with the most recent being two seasons ago at Georgia Tech. Last year, Wake Forest almost pulled off the upset in UNC’s ACC opener but the Tar Heels escaped with a 73-69 win.

Of those five losses, three of them have come on the road under Williams and UNC will again start on the road once more this season.

The Panthers are coming off a 0-18 year in conference play last season, firing head coach Kevin Stallings after two seasons. They replaced him with Capel and hope they can turn the program around in a hurry.

Capel is familiar with the Tar Heels in his battles on the Duke bench, facing them a minimum of two times a year. But does Capel’s team have the talent to pull off the upset at home?

Key to the game for Pitt

Finding a way to keep the rebounding margin as small as possible will be a big key for the Panthers come Saturday.

Pitt enters the game averaging 38.5 rebounds per game which is currently 78th in all of Division I college basketball. The Tar Heels are 5th in the country, averaging 44 rebounds per game and when they out-rebound their opponent by a big margin, they rarely lose.

UNC will be without Sterling Manley again on Saturday so they lose some depth in the paint.

Pitt’s leading rebounder, Au’Diese Toney, averages about 6.2 rebounds per game but he can’t do it on his own. It’s going to take a total team effort to limit the Tar Heels on the board and not let them get run outs and second chances.

Key to the game for UNC

I mentioned that UNC is a really good team on the boards this season but a way they can get out to a big lead is their perimeter shooting.

The Tar Heels have struggled at times from the perimeter this season and it’s allowed teams to hang around longer than they should. In some cases, they have lost games too.

Former Pitt standout Cameron Johnson is shooting 48.5 percent from the three-point line this season, a career-best so far. He’s been able to get hot in most games and help lead UNC to some victories.

But the key player for UNC will be Kenny Williams.

He’s had a rough start to the season but as of late has played a little better. Playing in big conference games could be just what he needs to get going.

What you need to know

What? UNC 10-3 (0-0) at Pitt 10-3 (0-0)
When? Saturday, January 5 – 12:00 pm EST
Where? Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh
TV? ACC Network
Radio? Tar Heel Sports Network
All-Time series? North Carolina leads series, 13-2
Prediction? UNC 88, Pitt 79