ACC Basketball

ACC Tourney | Pittsburgh at NC State

ETHAN HYMAN — News Observer

Heading into the month of February, both Pittsburgh and NC State had played their way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. While the Panthers were still a bubble team, the Wolfpack were officially in after beating both Louisville and North Carolina, thanks in part to a tough strength of schedule. Except for a little hiccup at Boston College, they’ve finished strong, winning five of their last six.

Pittsburgh had won seven of nine and also had impressive wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina. At 19-10, 8-7 in conference play, the ball was in their court as their final three foes were considered inferior foes. Well, those three contests turned into three loses and the Panthers’ bubble burst. Short of making it to the ACC tournament title game (and that may not be enough), they look to be headed to the N.I.T.

The problem for Pittsburgh all season has been on the defensive side of the ball. They’re 218th in Defensive Effective FG%, unable to stop both the two ball (223rd in 2P%) and three ball (225th in 3p%). They don’t block shots, they don’t force turnovers, but they sure do foul a lot.

Yet, it’s the offense that has struggled during the recent losing streak. Outside of Jamel Artis (13.8 PPG) and Michael Young (13.5 PPG), James Dixon can’t find a consistent third scoring threat. Sheldon Jeter, Cameron Wright and Chris Jones have all had their moments, but they also can be completely shut down.

Playing the center spot, Young has tried to put more of the scoring load onto his shoulders, actually scoring 22 points in three straight games, but when he’s faced with a tall, tough interior, he has struggled. He shot just 3-12 against Florida State, was shutout against Virginia and he’s shot under 50% against teams like Duke and Louisville. The exception was when he hit 6-for-7 against UNC, but that was truly an exception.

The problem for him and Pitt in this game is interior defense is what has turned NC State’s season around.

Offensively, Mark Gottfried’s squad will rely on their three guards. Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Cat Barber have combined to average 40.9 points per game in conference play. The rest of the team contributes 33.7 per game.

The interior guys, Kyle Washington, Abdul-Malik and BeeKay Anya are opportunistic scorers. Instead of relying on a post-game, they salvage off the offensive glass or put themselves in good spots when Barber or Lacey drive to the hoop.

Yet, the Wolfpack’s recent success has come down to defense. In their last seven games, erase that fluke game at Boston College and their defensive rating has sat at 100 or below six times (that’s good). Five of those six opponents shot below 40% and a lot of that has to do with their interior defense. Whether it’s their big bodies leaning on post players to keep them out of their comfort spots or simply swatting their attempts away (six blocks per game in their last seven), it has become very difficult to score inside on NC State.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: NC State, 76-64

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