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Sizing up the Hurricanes Hoops Vs Pitt Panthers with Cardiac Hill

We caught up with SB Nation's excellent Pittsburgh site to get the skinny on the Panthers, The ACC, Wednesday Night's game, and more.

Harry How

The "new" ACC is undoubtedly one of the deepest conferences in the Nation.

One week you can get classic stalwarts UNC and Duke, the next you're facing the undefeated top ranked Syracuse Orange.

This week Miami faces another "new" face albeit one they used to know in the old Big East days. On Wednesday the very balanced and talented Pittsburgh Panthers come to town.

They currently sit at #25 in the AP Poll and sport a well earned reputation as one of the toughest teams in the country under Head Coach Jamie Dixon.

What can they 'Canes expect Wednesday Night from the Panthers?

Jim Hammett of Cardiac Hill breaks it down.

SOTU: Before the season began I predicted Pitt to be top 3 or 4 in the conference and a Sweet 16.  How am I looking?  What have been these keys to this team's success and what are their limitations?

CH: Finishing in the top 4 of the league, and winning some games in the tournament still seem realistic. Some Panther fans are already hanging on by a thread after two losses last week. Pitt is 18-4, and the four losses are frustrating, but all of them came to very good and ranked teams. Pitt has handled their business against the teams they have supposed to, and still have time to pull off some big wins like Syracuse, UNC, and the ACC Tournament.  I do not have many complaints, and they seriously aren't all that far away from being 20-2, or even 21-1.

This team's success is built on the strength of the program. It may sound lame, but Pitt is just willing themselves through this season after a ton of losses in the offseason. Pitt was picked to be an NCAA tournament team, and finish sixth in the league, and they may be exceeding those expectations a bit.  Lamar Patterson is an all ACC performer, Talib Zanna is an experienced big man, and Pitt has a lot of exciting new faces. This is a good team, but not a great one.

Pitt is held back by their outside shooting. As you saw in the Virginia game, they are susceptible to low scoring affairs. Pitt does not have a lot of offensive firepower.  Pitt may lack some depth as well, and that stems from sixth man, Durand Johnson, being out for the remainder of the year with an ACL issue.

SOTU: How have Pitt fans enjoyed the "ACC Experience"  thus far?  What is the biggest difference between the ACC and the Big East?

CH: I think the football and other sports are getting serious upgrades, and the nearby road trips have been nice for us fans. The basketball league is not quite the same caliber as the old Big East, but that may just be a year to year thing. The main difference in switching leagues has been throwing away old rivalries, and trying to develop new ones. Sure, Pitt came in with Syracuse and Duke and UNC are exciting games, but the traditional games with UConn, Villanova, and Georgetown will surely be missed.

SOTU: Coming off the last second loss to UVA, how concerned are you about this Wednesday Night's game Vs Miami? Which players/match-ups concern you?

CH: As I alluded to earlier, some Panther fans are standing at the ledge. Pitt has four losses, and the national pundits like to point out that Pitt does not have any real good wins either. The main thing with that is, Pitt does not have any bad losses. The Cincinnati, Syracuse, and UVA games all were decided by five or less.

I am somewhat concerned, but not entirely. I am most concerned with the guys starting to panic after losing two in a row and might try to force things. Pitt is better than Miami, and I think eventually that talent and experience will eventually win out in this one. I am most concerned with a matchup down low with Donovan Kirk and Talib Zanna. Kirk is an imposing guy from what I have seen, and Zanna is coming off a 3 point, 2 rebound performance. Zanna rolled an ankle in the game, and if he is still moving slow, that could spell trouble for Pitt.

SOTU: Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna are clearly the bread and butter players of this team? Which guys that Miami fans might not have heard of that are also having good seasons?

CH: James Robinson is kind of the unsung hero of this team, and is probably the most under appreciated point guard in America.  Robinson isn't a flashy guy, and usually is not much of a scorer, either. He leads the country in assist to turnover ratio, and defends really well. Robinson gets Pitt into their sets, and rarely makes mistakes.  Pitt fans get on him all the time, but I have seen enough from him to know Pitt is not a top 25 team without him. He is just a sophomore and comes from  a legendary high school in DC, DeMatha Catholic. The point is, he knows how to win, and he has led Pitt to a fair share of those in his brief career thus far.

A new development for this team has been by the freshmen power forwards. Pitt starts Mike Young, and he nearly splits minutes in half with Jamel Artis.  Both are true freshmen, and both have similar games, and have been playing very of late. Artis led the Panthers in scoring against Virginia, and Young came up with some big plays as well. Pitt actually gets blown off the floor by the Cavaliers without the play of these two, and when Lamar Patterson heats up again, and if these guys continue to play at this level, Pitt can be very good.

SOTU: Give me you all time Pitt starting 5? And what is your favorite moment in program history?

CH: Tough question to ask a 23 year old Pitt fan. I know of the Charles Smith, Jerome "Send it in" Lane, and Sean Miller, but I did not get to see it. Pitt also is not known to have legendary players on the hardwood like the do in football with Dorsett and Marino ect, so i am indirectly going to answer your question.  I was in fifth grade when Pitt made the tournament behind Ben Howland and Brandin Knight, so that is sort of the start of my Pitt watching days, and also the beginning of this incredible run of modern Pitt basketball (made 11 of the past 12 NCAA tournaments) so I will comprise a top five of this current Howland/Dixon era, which is the best in school history.

PG - Brandin Knight - The Godfather of modern Pitt basketball in my opinion.
SG - Brad Wannamaker - Do it all guy, played a lot like Lamar Patterson does now.
SF - Sam Young - Young made the NBA, and starred alongside Blair for the 09 Elite 8 team.
C - DeJuan Blair - The Big Fella was the big man for two seasons. A very important part of Pitt basketball lore.
PF - Chevon Troutman - Epitome of a Pitt player. Rugged, under sized, and strong.

Favorite moment?  I think Pitt finally breaking the Sweet 16 barrier in 2009. LeVance Fields made a clutch three pointer against Xavier in that game that sent Pitt to the Elite 8 against Villanova, and well, let's not talk about that game.

SOTU;  Finally, who wins this game, and why?

CH: Pitt wins, and I think it will be because they are desperate for a win. Pitt typically does not have have three game losing streaks and I don't think an 11-10 Miami team will hand them one.  I do think Miami will hang around and make things tough for Pitt. As I said, Zanna could be moving slow, and Kirk could be in line for a big game. Patterson is certainly slumping as well. The doubt is in the fans' minds about the two losses this past week, but I think Dixon will have them ready to do.  I'll guess a 70-61 final.

Thanks again to Jim for working with us. Wednesday Night's game should be lots of fun.

Be sure to check out the game, and for those who can attend in person, The first 1,000 fans will receive a limited-edition trading card set featuring the 2014 football recruiting class. The trading card set will include early enrollees Trevor Darling, KC McDermott, Trent Harris, Juwon Young, Braxton Berrios and Joseph Yearby in addition to the recruits who sign Wednesday.