North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Pick & Prediction MARCH 15th 2024

Pitt has been making its case for inclusion into the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers could just about end any concerns on that topic with another victory, and that would have to come against No. 4-ranked North Carolina when the teams meet in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals Friday night in Washington, D.C.

“As long as we keep winning, then we increase our chances of getting in,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said.

Top-seeded North Carolina (26-6) has won seven consecutive games.

“We feel like it’s right there for the taking,” Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot said. “That’s why we’ve been playing so hard, and we all just want to end the season off right.”

Fourth-seeded Pitt (22-10) will aim to reach the title game for the first time in just its second semifinal appearance since joining the ACC.

Both teams took care of business in their first tournament action Thursday, with North Carolina wiping out ninth-seeded Florida State 92-67 before Pitt built a big lead and held on to dismiss fifth-seeded Wake Forest 81-69.

“When you get to this point of the season, you want to have the opportunity to keep playing,” Capel said. “We’re fortunate to be able to win a game and advance and to have a chance to be in the semifinals and to play against one of the outstanding programs in the history of college basketball. We’ll be ready to go (Friday).”

The NCAA bubble discussion isn’t bothering the Panthers, who have won four games in a row.

“As far as tournament talk, all we know is the more games we win, the more chances we get to get a bid,” Pitt standout Blake Hinson said. “You get an automatic bid if you win the tournament, so that’s our only focus.”

Pitt received a season-best 30 points from Ishmael Leggett, the ACC Sixth Man of the Year, on Thursday. It was the transfer from Rhode Island’s first ACC tournament game.

“I thought he provided just a toughness,” Capel said. “Obviously the scoring, but he had five steals, eight rebounds. He was everywhere. He just kept making plays for us. When we needed the big basket, we went to him.”

North Carolina relied on a strong game in most areas in the romp past Florida State. The Tar Heels owned a 48-22 rebounding advantage.

“For us to have a chance to be the best team that we can possibly be, it starts with defense, and it finishes with rebounding,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said. “That bleeds into us being efficient, especially in transition on the offensive end.”

North Carolina benefited in several ways by the lopsided margin of its quarterfinal game. Many core players in the rotation were on the court for limited minutes, something that could be helpful with playing on back-to-back days.

“It’s important for us to get great recovery and then lock in on the scout,” Bacot said.

It has been more than two months since the Tar Heels and Panthers met. North Carolina won 70-57 on Jan. 2 in Pittsburgh, where Bacot posted a team-high 16 points. Carlton Carrington had 20 points for Pitt that night, when the Panthers fell to 0-3 in league play.

The winner on Friday will take on the victor of the other semifinal — pitting third-seeded Virginia and 10th-seeded North Carolina State — in the tournament final on Saturday.

–Field Level Media

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