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North Carolina forward Sterling Manley ruled out for matchup with Pitt

The 6’11” forward’s absence could benefit the Panthers in their ACC opener

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Charlotte Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

North Carolina forward Sterling Manley will miss Saturday’s matchup with Pitt at the Petersen Events Center, as he’s been ruled out with lingering soreness in his left knee. The 6’11” sophomore missed his team’s matchup with Harvard on Wednesday night, and it’s unclear when he will return.

Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams provided the injury update during his press conference on Friday, saying, “He will not play tomorrow.”

While Manley has hardly been an offensive dynamo at Chapel Hill this season, as he’s averaged just 4.4 points per game, his absence should benefit the undersized Panthers, as they have matched up poorly with taller teams this season. That issue saw them suffer a 69-59 loss in what should have otherwise been a winnable game against West Virginia on Dec. 8, and it was assumed they would have the same problem against the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Pitt’s average height is 6’4,” which compares unfavorably to North Carolina’s average height of 6’6,” especially when factoring in that six players on the Tar Heels roster are 6’8” or taller. Pitt has just two players who fit that description, and only 6’10” center Terrell Brown even came close to matching up with Manley.

However, without Manley on the court, Pitt’s size issue should be less pronounced, as the frontcourt talent behind him on the depth chart has seen limited action. His top potential replacement is 6’10” forward Brandon Huffman, who is averaging 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds this season, and it appears he is not Williams’ preferred option.

Against Harvard earlier this week, Huffman saw four minutes of action and contributed one rebound and zero points, with the Tar Heels opting to take a smallball approach for the majority of the game. As a result, North Carolina’s rebounding suffered, dipping from 49 in its previous game to 38 against the Crimson with their relatively small lineup. If that issue persists — and with Manley out, that possibility exists — Pitt would benefit, as the team averages just 38.5 rebounds per game.

Whether Manley’s absence will hamstring the 15th-ranked Tar Heels in any significant way remains to be seen, but it certainly comes at an inopportune time for his team. The last time the Panthers played a top-15 opponent this season, they rose to the occasion on the road, taking 14th-ranked Iowa to the brink in a 69-68 loss that came down to the last shot. This time, they face a lower-ranked opponent and have home-court advantage. So even a minor issue like Manley’s injury could prove costly.

The ACC rivals are set to tip off at the Petersen Events Center at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday.