Personnel matchup highlights ACC debut for Pitt

PITT BASKETBALL

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Pitt hasn't played an overly difficult non-conference schedule but the Panthers still believe that their non-conference slate prepared them well for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But it isn't so much about the teams that the Panthers played as it was matching up against certain players, such as Penn State standout guard Tim Frazier and Stanford's Dwight Powell. But they believe it will serve them well once they get into their conference schedule.

"Our non-conference schedule in terms of the personnel we had to go up against, that should prepare us well for these ACC games," Pitt guard James Robinson said. "I don't know how different the style of play in the ACC is going to be, but I think at the end of the day basketball is going to be basketball."

Center Talib Zanna added, "I think we are prepared, the freshmen know what is going on and the team leaders, we have a lot of veterans who know what to do so we are pretty excited about this."

Robinson's theory will be put to the test in their first ACC game today against North Carolina State (10-3) at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The Wolfpack features the conference's leading scorer in TJ Warren, who averages 23.9 points per game.

Warren, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, is the only player in the conference who has scored 30 or more points in a game more than once (he has done it three times) and he has scored 21 or more points 11 times in 13 games.

Pitt has had some mixed results stopping some of the big scorers they already have faced this season -- Frazier had 27 points and Youngstown's Kendrick Perry had 28 -- but won every game an opposing team had a player score 20 or more.

Still, the Wolfpack, who was picked to finish 10th in the ACC in a preseason poll, has more talent around Warren than those other teams, so containing him will be important to their success.

"They are very good in transition, they are a transition team so we have to stop their fastbreaks," Zanna said. "Warren is a 6-foot-8 wing [player] but he can play the four [position] sometimes when they go small. But we have a lot of guys who can shut him down so we just have to play the way we play, how physical we play, and we will have a good plan for him ... maybe Lamar [Patterson] or Cam [Wright] will guard him.

"He gets most of his points from transition, though, so he is not really shooting a lot from the outside. He is just transition and they run a lot of plays for him down along the baseline and so we have good plans for him."

Zanna believes that while the Wolfpack is the team known for transition and is from a league known for transition, the Panthers will fare extremely well in a running game against them.

He said the Panthers might have a reputation for being physical and playing a halfcourt game traditionally, but this year they are more athletic than they have been and their frontcourt is generally going to be able to outrun opponents.

"Our wings run well, we have bigs who can run the floor, we have guards who can push the ball," Zanna said. "Josh [Newkirk] is one of the quickest point guards [and] we have Durand [Johnson] who can run the wings well. Everybody runs the floor really well and I know the ACC is kind of up-tempo. We are built for the ACC, we want to push the ball more and the guards are doing a good job of looking up the floor.

"[N.C. State big men], they are kind of slow so we have to outrun them and outhustle them every play."

Robinson said the Wolfpack is obviously built around Warren, but it also has two very good guards in Anthony Barber and Tyler Lewis and both bring something different to the game.

He said containing Barber is going to be just as important as containing Warren because he is an aggressive offensive player who can penetrate and get to the basket, so the Panthers will need to stay in front of him.

"Barber is going to attack a lot," Robinson said. "And Lewis is more of passer but he is still capable of scoring. But I think the way we guard each other in practice will prepare us well enough to be able to handle those guys.

"We know N.C. State is going to come out attacking us, it is the first ACC game for them."

*

NOTE -- Pitt's game Monday against Maryland will be telecast on ESPNU. It originally was going to be aired on ESPN2.

Scouting report

Matchup: Pitt (12-1) vs. North Carolina State (10-3), noon today, PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.

TV, Radio: WTAE; KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Is playing its first Atlantic Coast Conference game after previously competing in the Big East since 1982-83. ... Coach Jamie Dixon is 11-0 vs. ACC teams, excluding Notre Dame and Syracuse, which were Big East members until this year as well. ... Has held 8 of 13 opponents to 60 points or fewer.

North Carolina State: Is 9-1 against Pitt, including 7-0 at home. ... Has not played against Pitt since 1991. ... T.J. Warren leads ACC in scoring at 23.9 ppg. ... Warren is only ACC player with more than one 30-point performance this season. He has hit the mark three times. ... Was picked to finish 10th in conference preseason poll.

Hidden stat: The Panthers have made 229 of 307 free throws, which is a school-record pace of 74.6 percent.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise


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