PITTSBURGH — The University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball team (6-2, 1-0 ACC) is set to host Rutgers (6-1) on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. The game being the fourth non-conference Power-5 game for the Panthers this season, and the fifth if the season-opener against no. 17 Florida State (7-1, 0-1 ACC) is included.
Why This Game Matters:
This game is apart of the ACC/BIG10 challenge, which began on Monday with Miami (4-3, 0-1 ACC) traveling to Illinois (6-1). More importantly, this will be the fifth team that Pitt has faced in a P-5 conference this season. With their only loss in such games coming from rival West Virginia (7-0). A win over Rutgers will give the Panthers another statement victory to add to their resume as they look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Jamie Dixon-era.
While Rutgers currently sits with a strong 6-1 record on the season, they have yet to play a P-5 opponent. their highest-rated opponent, according to Kenpom, was St. Bonaventure (3-4), who is rated at 154 and defeated the Scarlet Knights, 80-74.
Rutgers is a defensive-minded team as they are currently tied for 30th in the country in scoring defense with Texas (6-1) as the two allow just 59.9 ppg. Furthermore, their adjusted defensive efficiency rating, a stat by Kenpom determined by points allowed per 100 possessions, is 92.8. Which sits at 57th in college basketball.
Three players that stand out for Rutgers are Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr., and Myles Johnson. Baker is the team’s leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and has averaged 32.1 mpg, leading the team in minutes significantly. As for Harper, he is second in the team in points (13.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.1 rpg). Johnson leads the team in rebounds (7.4 rpg), as he combines with Harper for a strong frontcourt for the Scarlet Knights.
How will Pitt fare:
The battle to watch in this one will be Pitt’s offense taking on Rutgers’ defense. Pitt has struggled in certain areas on offense this year. The Panthers currently have a 20.6 turnover percentage, which puts them at 227th in the country. Furthermore, their three-point percentage is an abysmal 25.6%, which ranks at 336th in the country. Granted, they have succeeded in other areas, such as offensive rebounding, of which their percentage 35.9% ranks 28th in college basketball. That being said, their struggling offense will face a tough test against Rutgers.
The Panthers travel to no. 1 Louisville (7-0, 1-0 ACC) on Friday. A win over Rutgers is important to give them momentum heading into a match-up with the nation’s top team. I predict Pitt will defeat Rutgers in a close 67-62 finish and improve to 7-2 on the year.
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