Pitt got the win it needed on Friday afternoon, holding of to beat No. 16 North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
The Panthers entered the day with good computer numbers and a dearth of bad losses — something that is unique on the bubble this season — but until their 80-75 victory over the Tar Heels, Jamie Dixon’s club had really lacked a marquee win.
They finally got it, and that should mean that Selection Sunday is just that much less stressful in Pittsburgh.
But the more pressing issue is North Carolina.
Have they been figured out? The Tar Heels won 12 straight games after starting out ACC play 1-4, but they struggled to hang on in the last two wins before getting smacked around by Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And while Friday’s final score made things seem respectable, quite frankly, it wasn’t. Pitt was up by 20 points late in the second half, and if it wasn’t for an embarrassing display of ugly turnovers and missed free throws, North Carolina never would have gotten back into the game.
For starters, they were absolutely massacred in the paint by Talib Zanna, who finished with 19 points and 21 boards, 10 of which came on the offensive end of the floor. That’s especially concerning when you consider the fact that the front court had been a strength of UNC’s during their winning streak.
The other issue came on the offensive end. Marcus Paige has developed a reputation of late for putting on second half shows, but the Tar Heels need him to become more assertive offensively in the first half. The Heels dug themselves a 27-8 hole in the first half and at one point were shooting just 3-for-19 from the floor.
This isn’t like the typical North Carolina teams that we are used to. They aren’t an offensive juggernaut. Paige is really their only consistent deep threat, and they can go through scoring droughts on the nights that James Michael McAdoo and Paige are off.
The Tar Heels are making a habit out of being a team that digs out of a hole late in the second half.
That’s not an ideal way to play.