Game Time: 6:00 PM
Opponent: Michigan Wolverines
Head Coach: Juwan Howard
Conference: Big 10
Last Game: W 88-83 vs. Eastern Michigan
2021 season: 19-15 (11-9 8th Big 10)
Top Player: C Hunter Dickinson (26.5 PTS, 9.5 REB, 1.5 BLK)
The Pittsburgh Panthers are heading to Brooklyn to take on the Michigan Wolverines in the first round of the Legends Classic. Pittsburgh is coming off an 81-56 loss to the hands of West Virginia in a game that left plenty of room for improvement. This is a matchup against an uncommon opponent as the Panthers and the Wolverines have only played each other twice in almost six decades.
The Michigan Wolverines come into this game ranked 20th in the nation after their 2-0 start to the year. The expectations are high once again in Ann Arbor under head coach Juwan Howard. After guiding the team to a Big 10 championship in 2021 that saw him win multiple coach of the year awards, the wolverines had a down year in 2022. The expectations around the program are to once again claim a Big 10 title and make a deep NCAA tournament run.
Emoni Bates gave the Wolverines problems in their last game against Eastern Michigan, Racking up 30 points and getting whatever he wanted. Michigan though, won’t be seeing that level of player in this matchup against the Panthers. The Wolverines have a special player of their own in center Hunter Dickinson. The 7’1 center is a dominating presence in the post and a walking double-double. Dickinson put up 31 points on 13-17 shooting in the win over Eastern Michigan and was crucial in the team being able to outlast Emoni Bates. Dickinson is on the watch list for the National Player of the Year award and watching his dominate play in the first two games it’s easy to see why. Dickinson is one of the top players in the nation and a scoring machine around the rim with a dominate post game.
Guard Jett Howard, son of coach Juwan Howard, is the second impact player on the team with the versatility he can bring. Howard is a 6’8 guard/forward that can play all three wing positions because of his shooting and playmaking ability. Howard leads the team with 4.5 assists and is shooting 41% from three. Howard is an elite shooter in spot-up situations and has the length to get his shot off consistently. On the defensive end, Howard is a versatile defender using his length to be able to defend four different positions.
Pitt will likely be welcoming back John Hugley IV back for his season debut and it couldn’t come at a better time. The Panthers will need all hands on deck against this Michigan Wolverine roster. In a small sample size, the Wolverines have a 47.6 field goal percentage mainly held up by the 78.6% of Hunter Dickinson. The Panthers will need to decide if it’s worth selling out to try to slow down Dickinson or if it’s best to just make sure no one else beats them. So far on the year, the Wolverines are only shooting 28% from three for a team that has attempted 50 already. The Panthers themselves are struggling to connect from deep as well so it will remain to be seen if Hugley’s presence on the inside helps attract more open looks. Though with Dickinson holding down the paint, it might not make as much of a difference in this matchup. The guards have to take care of the basketball in this matchup, the Panthers can’t make turn the ball over with a lengthy Michigan defense that would love to get extra opportunities in transition.
Prediction: John Hugley IV coming back should be a big boost for the Pittsburgh Panthers that sorely missed his presence. In the end, the Panthers still need some more time to gel and Michigan is still a few steps above Pitt’s level. Michigan in the end will come away with the win 73-62.