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Pitt basketball to face offensive-minded Northwestern in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt men’s basketball team travels to face Northwestern tonight. The game is part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It is a rematch of sorts — last year, Pitt beat Northwestern in the event, 72-59. But that game wasn’t in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Instead, it was the final game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off.

The game will be a good benchmark for both teams. Neither has faced a quality opponent yet and it’s going to be a nice way to challenge themselves prior to conference play. Pitt, of course, got more than a challenge in an upset loss to St. Francis in the season opener. But neither team has faced a great opponent yet.

The Panthers (2-1) have played better of late. Notably, Pitt has shot the ball much better in the two games since losing to St. Francis. But the Panthers haven’t matched what Northwestern (2-0) has been able to do on offense so far. Northwestern enters as a small favorite, which makes sense given the game is at home for them and also because of what they are doing offensively.

The Wildcats are only two games into the season but are averaging more than 100 points a game so far. After scoring 92 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in their opener, they hung 111 on Chicago State.

You might be inclined to think that they are doing what Duquesne has tried at times — fast-tempo offense, scoring a ton but giving up a ton. But Northwestern’s defense has been solid. They allowed only 49 to Arkansas-Pine Bluff and 66 to Chicago State.

Now, the competition has been lacking, obviously. But any time you’re scoring so easily while defending so well, that’s notable. Northwestern won both games by more than 40 points and Pitt hasn’t dominated its opponents nearly that well.

The key to a Pitt win is probably slowing down Northwestern from beyond the arc. The Wildcats are shooting an unreal 47% from three-point range and the Panthers are going to have to jump out and contest those shots. The team is led by the duo of guard Chase Audige (18 ppg) and forward Miller Kopp (17 ppg) — Kopp is the long range specialist and he’s made seven of his ten three-pointers on the year. But there’s scoring beyond that pair with three other players scoring in double figures (and two more, Ryan Young and Boo Buie nearly at ten points per game).

Pitt is not likely to allow Northwestern to reach the century mark in this one and should provide more competition than the Wildcats’ first two opponents. The question is if the Panthers’ own offense can keep pace. Pitt has a great scoring trio of Au’Diese Toney, Justin Champagnie, and Xavier Johnson. All three players are averaging at least 17 ppg and combining for nearly 53 points in each contest. The problem is that finding offense beyond that group has proven challenging. There’s 8.0 ppg from transfer Ithiel Horton but little else after that.

Game time is at 9:15 p.m. and you’ll find it on ESPN2.

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