With the non-conference slate now completed, Pitt opens ACC play today. Unfortunately, there's no easing into the difficult conference season as the Panthers open with a game against a No. 24 ranked Notre Dame team.
Now, things could be worse. Both teams sport identical 11-2 records and Pitt gets the game at home. But the Irish also look like the real deal. They already have wins over P5 programs Iowa, Colorado, and Northwestern. Their two losses have come to Top 15 Villanova and Purdue teams.
Like Pitt, Notre Dame relies mostly on their starters. They have four guys averaging 30 minutes or more a game (and all four average in double figures in scoring). On that front, they aren't much deeper than Pitt, really. Statistically, they're pretty similar, too. Pitt holds a slight rebounding edge, averaging only a couple more per game, and each team shoots 48% from the field. The Irish are better at the free throw line, slightly better from three-point range, and turn the ball over a little less.
Hurting Pitt in the depth department is, as of Friday, Chris Jones is still a big question mark. Justice Kithcart played admirably in his place, getting the start against Marshall earlier this week. But Pitt is mostly only a seven-man team at this point. If you cut Jones out, you're then relying on a guy like Jonathan Milligan to play more than normal. Milligan is a long-range threat, so that might work out. But the fact is that the Panthers can't really afford to get much thinner.
This is really a great benchmark game and should give us an idea of how Pitt competes in the conference. The Panthers have had some recent success against Notre Dame, winning the last three games in a row. With the game at home, you have to think they'll be in this one. But the Irish will be a tremendous test for Pitt despite that.
Game time at 2:00 p.m.
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