There have been signs that No. 25 North Carolina is getting into a groove, and now after a more than a week layoff, the Tar Heels have another chance to show their improvement.
North Carolina will begin the sizable portion of its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule by visiting Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon.
“I feel like we’re in a great situation and our group is definitely battle-tested,” Tar Heels guard Caleb Love said. “It’s good for us when our back is against the wall and how we fight back. Anything thrown at us, we’re going to overcome it.”
North Carolina (9-4, 1-1 ACC) has won four games in a row. Pittsburgh (9-4, 2-0) will be playing its ACC home opener.
The Tar Heels have displayed a more intense nature in recent games.
“Motivating them to be at their best,” coach Hubert Davis said.
The Tar Heels began the season at No. 1, but they were all the way out of the rankings by early December following a four-game losing streak. They spent three weeks out of the poll.
North Carolina forward Armando Bacot has raised his level the past couple of games, averaging 27 points in those two outings.
“I think he has been at his best,” Davis said. “He’s playing with a hunger and a thirst. He’s really playing hard and getting the ball in the right position. He has been really special, not just offensively but defensively as well.”
Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson received co-ACC Player of the Week honors for his efforts last week in an 84-82 victory at Syracuse. The transfer from Mississippi racked up 25 points and 13 rebounds to boost his team-leading averages in both categories (17.2, 7.4).
The Panthers, who also own an ACC road victory at North Carolina State, are riding a three-game winning streak.
“Nobody came here to be just 2-0 (in the ACC),” Hinson said. “This is what I envisioned when I signed up to play ACC basketball.”
Pittsburgh has racked up 10 or more 3-point baskets in five of its past seven games. The Panthers will turn attention to protecting the defensive glass after Syracuse had 15 offensive rebounds.
“We have to be better there,” Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel said. “… We’ve continued to work and get better.”
The only common opponent for the teams is Michigan, which beat Pittsburgh 91-60 on Nov. 16 in New York and then lost to North Carolina 80-76 last week in Charlotte, N.C.
The Tar Heels pulled out a close game against Ohio State on Dec. 17 before upending Michigan in another tight contest.
“We trust one another to go ahead and make a big-time play when it matters,” North Carolina guard RJ Davis said.
Pittsburgh won the only meeting last season, topping the host Tar Heels 76-67 in a Feb. 16 game that at the time put North Carolina’s postseason prospects in serious jeopardy. After that result, the Tar Heels lost only once more until falling in the national championship game to Kansas.
Among Pittsburgh players from last season’s matchup, only John Hugley IV and Jamarius Burton played in the game in Chapel Hill.
–Field Level Media