Fresh off their win over Notre Dame, Pitt still has one more road game before returning home. This match-up pits them against the 21st ranked Louisville Cardinals. It will be the first game of the season for Panthers in which both teams are ranked.
Last year Pitt played Louisville twice and in both games the Cardinals won by double digits. This is a new year though and since then Pitt lost only one player and added three new key contributors in Rafael Maia, Damon Wilson, and Sterling Smith. Louisville on the other hand lost Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, and Wayne Blackshear from a team that made it to the elite eight.
Like Pitt Louisville did not start in the preseason top 25, instead they had to work for it. A quick 5-0 record for coach Rick Pitino’s squad had them on the right path, but like Pitt once again they failed to record a signature win in out of conference play. In games versus Kentucky and Michigan State they lost by a combined six points. When conference play did start the ‘Ville were off to a strong start with wins over Wake Forest and NC State, but a cold shooting night at Clemson led to an upset loss. Now Pitino’s squad will be facing a two game losing streak if they cannot protect home court against Pitt.
Pitt’s season is a complicated one to state it simply. They started out of conference play on fire, blowing out their first four opponents. Then the first real test of the season came along and the Panthers failed, losing to Purdue 72-59. Since then though, Dixon’s team has won their last 10 games, three of which came in ACC play. The last two in particular were of note, because both were shootout type games that Pitt teams of past would not have been comfortable playing. This Pitt team is different, they have no problems with playing an up-tempo scoring battle. But the question remains, with no wins against any ranked teams how good is this Panther team? They have the chance to get their first in 21st ranked Louisville and prove they belong among the nation’s elite.
Contain Damion Lee-
Lee is the best offensive player Louisville has, averaging 16.6 points per game. Last game against Clemson Lee was held to just six points on 2-12 from the field. In turn Clemson was able to win a game many believed they had no chance. Pitt has not down well their last two contests of slowing down scorers, Adam Smith of Georgia Tech and Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame had 30 and 26 points respectively. Limiting the other teams best offensive player has to be a must in this one.
Start Fast Finish Fast-
Pitt started their last game on fire taking a 13-0 lead, but multiple times in the game they took their foot off the pedal. They never truly buried Notre Dame and it almost cost them late. Against a high caliber team like Louisville you cannot afford to slack off. They are desperate to avoid a two game skid and will have the home crowd on their side. Pitt needs to limit that home court advantage the best they can.
Like pretty much every Louisville team since Rick Pitino arrived this one is long and athletic. That means they can hurt you on the glass if you do not put a concerted effort toward stopping them. Pitt has rebounded well all season, making it one their better strengths. However, it still should be considered a key to victory, because if Pitt rebounds like they are capable of it will not only take away shots from the Cardinals but will also give themselves more chances at the hoop.
Matchup to Watch:
Rafael Maia vs. Chinanu Onuaku
Pitt’s starting center, Maia, does not exactly light up the stat sheet averaging around three points and five rebounds per game. Compare that to Onuaku and it falls dramatically short as he almost averages a double double. Maia will need to stand his ground and play the same type of smart basketball he has all season in order to help this Pitt team climb past the hurdle that is Louisville.
Pitt has not exactly installed confidence in me these last two games. Both the Georgia Tech and Notre Dame games seemed over until suddenly they weren’t. The latter of those two saw an 18 point lead cut all the way down to two and I feel like this is when the Panthers finally see their win streak ended. Louisville needs this win and I feel the home court advantage does just enough to get them over the top.
Final Score: Pitt-70 Louisville-74