Louisville hits the road for the first time in ACC play Wednesday night.
Louisville Cardinals (10-4, 1-0) At Pittsburgh Panthers (10-4, 0-1)
Game Time: 8:06 p.m.
Location: Petersen Events Center: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Television: Raycom/WAVE-3 in Louisville
Announcers: Tim Brando (play-by-play) and Dan Bonner (analyst)
Officials: Brian Dorsey, Don Daily, Kipp Kissinger
Playing under first-year head coach Jeff Capel, it took Pitt just 12 games this season to surpass their win total (8) from the entire 2017-18 campaign. On the flip side, the Panthers dropped their ACC opener to North Carolina last weekend (85-60), a setback which extended their ACC losing streak to 21 games. Pitt has also lost 12 straight games to Louisville, their longest active losing streak to a single opponent.
Still, Capel appears to have things headed in the right direction thanks in large part to his first recruiting class. Three of Pitt’s four leading scorers are true freshmen, a group headlined by 6’3 guard Xavier Johnson. The Arlington, Va. native is shooting 40.0 percent from three, 83.5 percent from the free-throw line, and averaging team highs in points (16.1 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg). Johnson has scored in double figures in all 14 of the Panthers’ games this season.
Another 6’3 freshman, Trey McGowens, is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.4 ppg. He’s riding a hot hand into Wednesday night, averaging 19.0 ppg. He does a significant chunk of his damage at the free-throw line, a place he was able to get to 16 times against North Carolina last weekend.
The only one of Pitt’s top six scorers who was a member of last season’s team is senior wing Jared Wilson-Frame (11.6 ppg). He’s the team’s best outside shooter, and he scored 20 or more points in each of his first three games this season. Wilson-Frame’s production has dipped over the last month as opponents have forced him to score in ways other than catch and shoot three-pointers. Even though he missed seven of his eight three-point attempts against North Carolina, this is the guy Louisville’s perimeter defenders are going to have to an eye on at all times.
Pitt isn’t quite as thin as the Miami team Louisville faced on Sunday, but with grad transfer guard Sidy N’Dir sidelined for a few weeks with a leg injury, Capel has been going with an 8-man rotation. That means this has the potential to be yet another game where U of L’s ability to draw fouls could provide the Cardinals with a tremendous advantage.
Though Capel didn’t exactly have a reputation for coaching blue collar, rough and tumble teams when he was at VCU and Oklahoma, he has Pitt back to playing that style this season. The Panthers have already taken more charges this season (38) than they did in the previous two seasons combined (33). Despite being somewhat undersized, they also play with the same heart and scrappiness that we saw from the Jamie Dixon teams of old.
Expect the Petersen Events Center to be a much more hostile environment than it has been the last few times Louisville has visited, and expect this win to be a much more difficult one to secure as well.
Field goal defense (No. 11 nationally in effective FG% D), forcing turnovers, getting to the free-throw line, keeping opponents off the free-throw line, offensive rebounding.
Youth, depth, outside shooting (No. 219 nationally in 3P%), shooting in general, turnovers (215th in turnover%), giving up offensive rebounds, having a rim protector (341st in block%).
—Louisville has won its first conference road game in nine of its last 11 seasons.
—Louisville has won 12 consecutive games against Pittsburgh. U of L’s only longer active winning streaks are against Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky, teams the Cardinals have beaten 14 consecutive times.
—Five of Pitt’s top six scorers are newcomers, with first-year players accounting for 67.2 percent (717-of-1066) of the team’s scoring on the season.
—There isn’t a single player from Pitt’s 2016-17 roster on this year’s team.
—Louisville is third in the nation in free-throw attempts per field goal attempts (372/785, 47.4 percent) and is third in the nation with 25.7 percent of its points coming from free-throws.
—Louisville is 9-0 this season when shooting a better percentage from the field than its opponent.
—Pitt has lost its last 23 regular season games in ACC play, and its last 21 ACC games overall. Its last conference win came against Georgia Tech in the 2017 ACC tournament, and its last regular season conference win came against Florida State on Feb. 18, 2017.
—Chris Mack is 1-0 all-time in games against Pitt. His first Xavier team (2009-10) upset the third-seeded Panthers 71-68 in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
—Pitt is averaging 80.9 points per game on 48.1 percent (275-of-572) shooting from the field in its 10 wins. In comparison, the Panthers have averaged just 64.2 points on 37.7 percent (86-of-228) shooting from the field in their four losses.
—Louisville is 7-1 against Pitt in games played inside the Petersen Events Center, the best mark of any Panther opponent.
—Two years ago, Louisville posted the largest margin of victory for a road team in ACC history and the third-largest margin for any league game in its 106-51 victory at Pitt (1-24-17).
—Louisville is 1-0 all-time in games against Jeff Capel. The Cards throttled Capel’s sixth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, 74-48, in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
—Louisville has won 148 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 16 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 69, Pittsburgh 68