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Preview: Pittsburgh @ Wake Forest

The Pitt Panthers head to Winston-Salem in yet another matchup between bubble teams

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I hate the phrase “must-win”. To me that phrase does not mean “important”, or “we really need this one”. It means that if your team does not win this game then they will fail to reach an important plateau, or stated goal. In my mind, the game tonight against Pittsburgh is a “must-win” game if Wake Forest wants to make the NCAA Tournament. This game cannot be lost, and if it is, even a win against Louisville and @ Virginia Tech would be marred by dropping this one.

Pittsburgh heads to Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons tonight at 7 P.M. at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The game will air on ESPN3/ACC Network/etc.

Pittsburgh (15-12, 4-10) has actually somehow played their way onto the periphery of the bubble with three wins in their last four games. They took down the Florida State Seminoles by two touchdowns last week, and now are looking for a road win against Wake Forest to keep the wheels turning.

The Demon Deacons (15-12, 6-9) have seen everything go their way from a bubble standpoint last night, but now need to get two wins in their final three games to get to 8-10 in conference play and present their case to the committee.

The Panthers are a very odd team in record, as well as how they got to this point in the season. They started the season 11-2, dropping games to SMU and Duquesne on neutral floors. Then came conference play, where they lost 9 out of their first 10 games with the season seemingly over. Out of nowhere they have now reeled of 3 out of 4 to get in the discussion for a longshot tournament bid.

Kevin Stalling’s squad is led by seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis, averaging 20.2 and 19.6 PPG respectively, good enough for first and third in the conference. Sophomore Cameron Johnson has come on in his past three games as well, shooting 13/20 (65%) from behind the three-point line in those games.

Pittsburgh is a very long team, ranking 3rd nationally in Average Height according to KenPom. Their starters go: 6-6, 6-7, 6-8, 6-8, 6-9, which is somewhat terrifying for our team defensively given the height deficiency in the three-guard lineup that Coach Manning likes to run.

Quite frankly Wake Forest has little chance of stopping Young and Artis, as both are right in that range where the Deacs have caused little resistance all year.

It is vitally important that John Collins stays out of foul trouble while guarding Michael Young, as Young gets to the foul line 7 times per game.

The good news is that Pittsburgh probably has no answer for John Collins inside, and the small lineup could cause issues on their defensive end.

Pitt ranks 350th nationally at steal rate, and 348th nationally in turnover percentage. They are one of the worst teams in America at forcing turnovers. This game will likely feature a lot of half court offensive sets, which Wake Forest thrives in (one could argue we are the second best half court offensive team in the nation behind UCLA). While the Panthers rank 33rd nationally in offense, they are 168th nationally in defense. Basically the same as Wake Forest, but worse in both categories.

There is no reason to think that this will be anything other than a high-scoring game. Neither team will turn the ball over very much, and both teams will likely score at will in their offensive sets.

In conference Pittsburgh ranks 14th in the ACC defensively, while Wake ranks 4th offensively. That’s a matchup nightmare for Pitt given the ability of the Demon Deacons to score inside and outside. On the flip side of things, Pitt ranks 9th offensively in conference play, while Wake ranks 10th.

If the Deacs can limit the production of Artis and Young, and shut down any third scorer that may emerge then I like their chances to win this game.

Overall I think that John Collins and Bryant Crawford are going to prove to be too much for the Panthers to handle. Wake desperately needs this game, they are on their home court, and I think Collins will continue his excellent play as of late and will flirt with a 20/20 game. If Omer Yurtseven can put up 12 and 16 against this team then I can only imagine the damage that Collins will do inside.

I’ll take the Deacs 93-78 in a fun, high-scoring affair at the Joel.