The season started with so much promise for Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers. A tough 1-point loss to Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic was the only blotch on their record through the first 17 games, and they were off to a 4-0 start in their new conference as well.
It has been a struggle since then, however, with the Panthers a level 6-6 following that 16-1 beginning, five of those defeats coming at the hands of the four ACC teams currently ranked in both polls.
Pitt will have to wait for the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament to gain a little revenge for any of those setbacks. The Panthers have two regular season contests before then, the first one Monday night at home against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. ESPNU will cover the tip-off at Petersen Events Center starting at 9 PM (ET).
The Panthers went out as 11 point favorites but are now listed at -10.5. SBR's live college basketball odds will have the total just as soon as lazy oddsmakers post it.
The first ACC win Pittsburgh recorded came against the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Jan. 4, a 74-62 decision in the conference opener for both. It was the first time the schools met on the hardwood since 1991, and the Panthers' victory was only their second in 11 matchups with NC State. Pitt backers were laying 3.5 with the final falling just short of the 138.5 point total.
Take a look at the updated NCAA Tournament Betting Odds.
'Pack Stumbling To The Finish Line
While the Panthers were getting off to a 4-0 start in the ACC, North Carolina State (17-12 straight up, 14-12 against the spread) dropped four of its first five. But then came a nice 5-1 stretch that suggested Mark Gottfried's guys were getting things together.
The Wolfpack then went to Syracuse and gave the unbeaten Orange almost more than they could handle, and that disappointing 56-55 loss may have taken a lot of fight out of NC State. The 'Pack has since lost three of four, including another tough 1-point setback to rival North Carolina in overtime, and will need to win out plus make a deep run into the ACC tourney to get an invite to March Madness.
As it turns out, the defensive effort against Syracuse went against the norm for the Wolfpack. North Carolina State has allowed 72.4 PPG in league play, more than anyone except Wake Forest, and is a middling squad in field goal and 3-point percentages.
The offense revolves completely around TJ Warren. The 6-8 sophomore has strung together 12-straight 20+ point performances and also leads the Wolfpack in rebounding.
Panthers Home After Pair Of Road Wins
Pittsburgh (22-7 SU, 9-15-2 ATS) fell into a 3-game rut a couple of weeks back, and things were beginning to look very dim for the Panthers. But they appear to have righted the ship following a pair of triumphs on the road at Boston College and Notre Dame, and a pair of seniors will be playing their final home game Monday before Dixon's bunch ends the regular season next Saturday at Clemson.
Those two seniors just happen to be Pitt's top 2 scorers, Lamar Patterson (17.2 ppg) and Talib Zanna (12.6 ppg). Patterson also leads the Panthers in assists while Zanna tops the rebound column.
Pittsburgh has been involved in a lot of close games lately, the last eight ending with 7-point margins or less and the Panthers only covering the two recent road tilts in that span. They've been double-digit favorites 11 times this season, and have posted a 3-7-1 ATS record in those games. There's no question that Pitt is the better team, but I'm going to take the Wolfpack and the points for my free pick.
My pick: NC State +10.5Season: 46-35-4 (+7.5)