Pittsburgh vs. NC State preview: Hold onto yer butts, it's league play

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Pitt @ StatSheet
2013 Stats / 2014 Stats
2014 Roster
2014 Schedule

Pitt Offense 13-14
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 52.4 67
Turnover Rate 15.4 30
Off Reb Rate 40.6 10
FTA/FGA 41.8 146

Pittsburgh seems to be flying under the radar so far this season, though if you watched any of the Panthers' gross 44-43 loss to Cincinnati, you'd probably be inclined to believe otherwise. Pitt hasn't lost a game aside from that one, though, and it has a 21-point drubbing of a decent Stanford team on its resume. Eleven of the Panthers' 12 wins this year were by double digits.

This is going to be the toughest game to date for the Wolfpack, which will be tasked with stalling a group that is pretty sound in most areas. Jamie Dixon is one of those coaches who seems to churn out NCAA tourney teams like it's nothin', even if he isn't making big headlines on the recruiting trail. The Panthers have been the NCAAs in nine of the last 10 years, and they'll return in 2014, barring some sort of bizarre collapse in conference play.

In five of the last six years, the Panthers have finished among the nation's top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage. What they do offensively might not always be the prettiest thing--they're going to limit the pace--but it sure as heck works. A team that takes care of the ball and rebounds well is a terrifying matchup for NC State, which doesn't force opponents into an exceptionally high number of mistakes and hasn't rebounded well defensively for about as long as I can remember.

If there is good news, I suppose it's that Pitt lacks perimeter shooting options. The Panthers are shooting just 33 percent from deep, and like State, they shy away from three-point attempts in general. The key for State might be forcing Pitt into more long jumpers than they'd prefer. That and doing a decent job on the defensive glass, of course. But we may not be able to do the former without zone, which makes the latter task even more difficult.

Starters

James Robinson (6-3, 200) -- Low usage guy in terms of his shot attempts, which isn't a bad thing considering his modest accuracy inside and out thus far. His assist and turnover rates are good, and he's done an excellent job of drawing fouls. He is 37-of-42 from the line this season.

Cameron Wright (6-4, 205) -- Like Robinson, his assist and turnover rates are good, and he hasn't proven to be much of an outside shooter. He attempts threes only sparingly, but he's been effective inside the arc, where he's hitting 57.1% of his attempts this year. He's handling the transition from reserve to starter well, all things considered.

Lamar Patterson (6-5, 225) -- Here we got ourselves a problem. Patterson leads the team in scoring, workload, eFG%, 3FG%, and assist rate. He's also stealing the ball at a good clip, hitting 58.3% of his twos, and getting to the line frequently, where he shoots 79%. That doesn't sound like a guy who is a whole lot of fun to guard.

Michael Young (6-8, 245) -- Scoring isn't Young's thing--at least not yet; he's just a freshman--but he is one of the major reasons why Pitt rebounds so well at the offensive end. His offensive rebounding percentage ranks 90th nationally, and he's not bad at the other end, either.

Talib Zanna (6-9, 230) -- Zanna was a top-35 offensive rebounder in each of the last two seasons. Takes care of the ball, gets to the line plenty, scores effectively in the paint.

Bench

Durand Johnson (6-6, 205), Josh Newkirk (6-1, 185), Derrick Randall (6-9. 240), Jamel Artis (6-7, 230). If Randall had the minutes to qualify, his OR% would rank second in the nation. Some of his incredible start--as well as his improvement at the other end--are probably in part a function of Pitt's weak non-conference slate, but he's been a strong offensive rebounder in limited minutes throughout his career.

Johnson is playing under the pressure of an expanded role this season, which may explain why he is 18-of-59 from three after hitting 25 of 66 from deep a season ago. Some improvement in this area would be a bonus for the Panthers, but they probably have enough firepower elsewhere to keep scoring efficiently even if Johnson can't help them stretch the floor a bit.

Newkirk, who was a four-star kid right out of State's back yard, is off to a slow start to his college career (turnovers are major problem so far). Definitely looks like a kid still getting acclimated.

Being a tall person on the Pitt basketball team, Artis is--you guessed it!--a dangerous offensive rebounder.

Pitt Defense 13-14
Four Factors Percent Nat'l Rank
eFG% 44.6 39
Turnover Rate 19.5 107
Off Reb Rate 26.6 22
FTA/FGA 30.8 29

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Pitt by four.

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