BC Men’s Basketball ACC Tournament Preview: First Round vs. Pittsburgh

After a disappointing finish to the season that included blowout losses to both North Carolina and North Carolina State, 11th-seeded Boston College men’s basketball (14-16, 5-13 Atlantic Coast) looks to rebound and make an ACC Tournament run, starting with a first round date against No. 14 Pittsburgh (13-18, 3-15). The Panthers narrowly avoided finishing last in the conference with a win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

Who is BC playing?

Pittsburgh

When is BC playing?

Tuesday, March 12, 7 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

The ACC Tournament at the Spectrum Center, Charlotte, N.C.

How to Watch:

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

What to Know About Pittsburgh:

The 2018-19 campaign marked the first season of an new era under new head coach Jeff Capel. The Panthers had nowhere to go but up—after all, they finished 2017-18 with a total of zero conference wins—and started the conference season well, with victories over both Louisville and Florida State. However, the tough nature of the ACC quickly caught up to a young team which had freshmen (Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Audiese Toney) as three of its top-four scorers. Pittsburgh was often competitive—a six-point loss at North Carolina State where the Panthers led with under seven minutes to play, as well as a 65-56 defeat to Syracuse at home come to mind—but couldn’t close the deal, losing 13 straight games before the aforementioned win over the Fighting Irish Saturday.

On offense, Pittsburgh finished the season with the third-worst field goal percentage in the conference, but still managed to increase its scoring output by nearly eight points per contest from 2017-18, from 62.0 to 69.9. Much of that is a credit to Johnson and McGowens, who stepped into the lineup and formed an excellent scoring backcourt in their first year. The duo both averaged over 10 points per game and shot over 41 percent from the floor, excelling at attacking the rim and using screens. Yet neither is particularly proficient at long-range shooting. Johnson hits 3-pointers at a 36.3-percent clip, while McGowens checks in at just 31.5 percent from long range. In fact, there’s really only one player on the Panthers that poses a credible threat from behind the arc: senior Jared Wilson-Frame. He shoots 39.0 percent from distance on 7.4 attempts per game, and nailed four 3-pointers the last time the two teams met. BC’s perimeter defense will have to be on high alert to ensure he doesn’t get hot.

The Panthers also don’t have a capable post presence. Their six-best scorers are all guards, and nominal post presences Terrell Brown and Kene Chukwuka, who stand at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10, respectively, combine for just 9.6 points per game and neither has scored more than 16 points in a game this season. That said, the two are good on the offensive glass, and spearhead the offensive rebounding efforts of a Pittsburgh team that averages 11.4 offensive boards a contest—sixth best in the ACC. After a pair of terrible rebounding efforts against the Tar Heels and Wolfpack, BC will have to figure out some answers in the rebounding department to keep the Panthers from nabbing too many extra possessions.

Defensively, the Panthers are certainly stronger, entering the game carrying the 60th best defense in the country by KenPom. They rank middle of the pack in the ACC in just about every major statistical category, but did hold Ky Bowman in check effectively the last time the two teams met—the junior star finished 4-of-16 from the floor in the teams’ February meeting. Pittsburgh’s bevy of guards—it has six that average over 20 minutes per game—means that the Panthers should be able to switch the primary defender on Bowman often to keep a fresh pair of legs on him. It will be up to the Eagles’ bench, which shot an impressive 11-of-15 in BC’s win over Pitt in February, to make up the difference. Also, if Nik Popovic plays (he is currently listed as questionable with a knee injury, and didn’t play the last time the two teams met) that should provide the Eagles with a nice scoring boost.

Last Meeting:

The two teams last played Feb. 12 at Conte Forum, with BC emerging victorious, 66-57. The Eagles held the Panthers to just 29-percent shooting in the win and overcame the loss of Jordan Chatman to a finger injury to snap a four-game losing streak. Despite shooting just 4-of-16 from the floor, Bowman still led BC with 14 points.

Outlook:

Despite being the higher seed, the Eagles are actually one-point underdogs to the Panthers. Given the way both teams finished the season, it’s not too difficult to see why. Throw in the questionable designation given to both Popovic and Jairus Hamilton, as well as the fact that Jared Hamilton missed the regular season finale, and BC could be severely undermanned against Pittsburgh. The game will likely be close, and like always, will once again hinge on Bowman’s shoulders. The Panthers missed quite a few makeable looks down the stretch in the nine-point loss a month ago that could have certainly changed the game. If Bowman isn’t able to shoot better than 25 percent this time around, it isn’t hard to see BC headed for an early exit.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

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About Peter Kim 174 Articles
Peter Kim is the assistant sports editor of The Heights. He’s from Seattle, will die happy if the Mariners make the playoffs once in his lifetime, and still refuses to watch any of Super Bowl XLIV. Follow him on twitter @PeterKim_4