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NC State preps for a Pittsburgh team suddenly in the midst of an identity crisis

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Losing a couple of starters in late February is not ideal!

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been less than two weeks since NC State and Pittsburgh first played, and still the Panthers are going to look a lot different than they did at that point. As you may have heard by now, Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson entered the transfer portal this week, which deprives the Panthers of two players averaging more than 14 points per game.

Both played well against State on the 17th: Toney scored 17 points in 39 minutes, while Johnson had 14 in 19 minutes. They were regular starters for Pitt, and they were having pretty good seasons. Johnson was the team’s best distributor—he’s seventh nationally in assist rate—and both of them were really good at drawing fouls and getting to the line, which was an important strength for an overall poor-shooting team.

Pitt has not played since these departures happened, so it’s tough to guess how the Panthers will look personnel-wise on Sunday, but Jeff Capel was already playing a short bench, and obviously this puts more pressure on Justin Champagnie to carry the load offensively.

Champagnie, Toney, and Johnson combined to score 49 points against the Wolfpack in Pittsburgh, and the other five guys who saw the court accounted for 24 points.

The two other primary starters remaining, aside from Champagnie, are two-guard Ithiel Horton and forward Abdoul Karim Coulibaly. Horton already was handling an above-average workload and that’ll continue, since he figures to pick up some of the possessions left by Toney and Johnson. He’s a good shooter and NC State should be aware that he’ll be hunting jumpers more often, but he’s a more straightforward guy to defend—he’s only been to the free throw line 10 times this season, for example.

Karim Coulibaly has been more of a light-usage opportunist from his forward spot and seems unlikely to start accounting for a big chunk of the offense, but Pitt will need him on the court most of the afternoon to help elsewhere.

Freshman guard Femi Odukale probably steps into the point guard spot and he’s much more limited offensively than Johnson—Odukale is just 3-16 from beyond the arc, and he’s just 21-46 at the free throw line.

So NC State’s challenge along the perimeter will be a bit more straightforward, but the transfers don’t alter Pitt’s ability to make an impact on the offensive glass, and there’s still Champagnie to contend with. And the Wolfpack hardly has a reason to be taking anyone lightly at this point.

KenPom likes NC State by four. (This projection does not account for Pitt’s personnel losses.)