Send to KindleThe ACC enters the Big Ten/ACC Challenge desperately needing some signature wins. It’s not exactly the league’s last chance. North Carolina has Kentucky coming up, Duke plays UCLA, Notre Dame squares off with Indiana. There are some others before exams and the holidays slide into January and conference play.
But it’s still a big week for a league struggling to lift itself above the pack.
The league also enters the two-day event with only two undefeated teams. Syracuse is no surprise. They have been ranked in the top 10 all season.
Credit: Pitt Athletics
But Pittsburgh is the other unblemished ACC team. Didn’t see that one coming. The Panthers haven’t really beaten anyone likely to be playing deep into March. But they’ve also avoided the upset bug that has plagued much of the ACC. There’s something to be said for claiming the low-hanging fruit.
Pitt came into the league with a reputation for physical defense and physical rebounding. They led the Big East last season in fewest points allowed and rebounding differential. Kick sand in your face and take your lunch money.
Nothing has happened to change that. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent against the Panthers, who are winning the battle of the boards by more than a dozen per game. What new rules?
Offense was a different matter. Pitt did drop 93 on DePaul last season. Then again, DePaul did lose 21 games.
But Pitt seems to have brought a new-found offensive elan to their new league. Try 88-67 over Stanford. Or 84-67 over Duquesne.
Pitt is averaging over 81 ppg, a sizeable jump over last-season’s 69.2.
Much of the credit can be claimed by Lamar Patterson (above, right), a 6-5 senior who averaged a modest 10 points per game last season. But Patterson toasted Texas Tech for 23 points, Stanford 24 in two wins at last week’s Progressive Legends Classic.
Patterson is averaging 17.1 points per game after seven games. Pitt hasn’t had anyone average that much for a season since Sam Young averaged 19.2 five seasons ago.
And he’s getting help. Three other Pitt players are scoring in double figures and the team has almost twice as many assists as turnovers. Sophomore James Robinson—fresh off a summer with the USA U-18 team—has 34 assists against just six turnovers.
It’s early and Jamie Dixon’s crew might dial it back to a more familiar comfort zone once conference play starts. But right now it looks like the grind-it-out-pre-season Pitt narrative may have to be amended.
The highest-profile games in the Challenge are North Carolina at Michigan State, Michigan at Duke, Wisconsin at Virginia and Indiana at Syracuse. But the Challenge frequently is decided in the trenches, by games like Boston College-Purdue or Illinois-Georgia Tech. Pitt plays Penn State.
Should be fun.
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