N.C. State basketball will open its 2020 ACC Tournament against Pittsburgh on Wednesday afternoon.
When N.C. State takes the floor on Wednesday afternoon in Greensboro, they’ll be playing with a lot on the line. The Wolfpack is currently right on the cut line for the Big Dance, and the ACC Tournament is the last chance to impress before the tournament field is decided. The Pack’s opponent, the Pitt Panthers, are fresh off a 81-72 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday, and despite finishing just 6-14 in conference play, they’re far more talented than their record indicates. State obviously needs to win this game to have a shot on Selection Sunday, but they need to be very careful not to overlook Wednesday’s opponent. The game is scheduled to tip off at 2 o’clock on ESPN; however, the start time could be delayed by the Clemson-Miami game at noon.
Like the Wolfpack, the Panthers are also powered by a trio of talented guards.
Perhaps no team in the ACC has had as much consistent guard play from three different players as N.C. State has; however, Pittsburgh isn’t far behind. The Wolfpack are led by the trio of Markell Johnson, Devon Daniels, and CJ Bryce, while the Panthers have their own impressive group in Justin Champagnie, Xavier Johnson, and Trey McGowens. State fans know all about Markell Johnson, who led the conference in assists this season and was recently named second-team All-ACC. Daniels has really come on for the Pack in the past two months, averaging 14 points per game over his last 15 contests, while Bryce provides consistent offense and is tied for the team lead in rebounding.
On the Pittsburgh bench, Champagnie, McGowens, and Xavier Johnson are all underclassmen, but each has proven they can be extremely dangerous when they get going. Champagnie, a 6’6” freshman from Brooklyn, led the Panthers in scoring and rebounding this season, and racked up a career-high 31 points in Tuesday’s win over the Demon Deacons. Johnson and McGowens form one of the conference’s most exciting young backcourts, and either one has shown the ability to take over a game. Fortunately for the Wolfpack though, none of the three have proven to be consistent scorers. Champagnie is the only one shooting better than 37% on the year, and he is hardly a threat from the perimeter. Even still, State needs to be careful; when the young Panther guards are on, they’re on, and they’re hard to stop when they get hot.
N.C. State was able to survive a scare last month in Raleigh, but they can’t expect to win another sloppy game against a hungry Pitt team.
The Wolfpack and Panthers locked horns just one time in the regular season, as N.C. State pulled off a come-from-behind victory on their home court on February 29th. The Pack never led during the game’s first 33 minutes; however, thanks to some second-half heroics from Johnson and Jericole Hellems, State was able to escape what could have been a disastrous loss. There’s no question that Kevin Keatts needs his team to come out with more intensity early on this time around.
The easiest way for the Wolfpack to clean up its play in Wednesday’s matchup is to take care of the basketball. State turned the ball over 16 times in the prior meeting, resulting in 21 Pittsburgh points. Live-ball turnovers kept the Panthers in control for most of the game, as did offensive rebounds. N.C. State surrendered 13 offensive boards back in February, allowing Pitt to tack on 15 second-chance points. Sophomore guard Au’Diese Toney scored 24 of Pitt’s 73 points in the February matchup, and could very well be a factor once again. The best way for the Wolfpack to pull out a victory though is to hold on to the basketball. If they can limit turnovers and easy buckets for the Panthers, they’ll have a great chance to advance to the quarterfinals on Thursday.
If N.C. State wants any shot at making the NCAA Tournament, then Wednesday’s game against Pitt is a must-win. A loss would almost certainly knock the Wolfpack onto the wrong side of the bubble, and would be an insurmountable gash on its tournament resume. With that being said, the players know how high the stakes are. Winning on Wednesday would give them a chance to beat Duke in what would all-but assure them a place in the Field of 68. Coach Keatts and his guys know how important Wednesday’s matchup is, so look for them to come out aggressive and pressure Pittsburgh’s young lineup before they get a chance to get hot.
Score Prediction: N.C. State 75, Pitt 68