Greensboro, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Seeking their first ACC Tournament title since 2008, the 15th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels get their postseason underway with Friday's quarterfinal matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
One of the winningest programs in this event, North Carolina comes in with a 90-42 tournament record, with 17 ACC Tournament titles, second only to Duke (19). The Tar Heels had some lulls this season, but very few teams over the second half of the campaign played better basketball. Marquee victories over the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke highlighted a season that saw Roy Williams' squad win 12 straight games down the stretch before falling in the regular-season finale at Duke to finish tied with the Blue Devils at 13-5, settling for the four-seed in this event.
Jamie Dixon's Panthers are in their first ACC Tournament, but made a rather smooth transition in their first season in the conference, in contention early before faltering a bit down the stretch and ending up 11-7 in league play, picking up the five-seed. Pittsburgh had a bye in the first round and treated the second round like a tune-up, routing Wake Forest, 84-55.
North Carolina has won eight of the nine all-time meetings with Pittsburgh, including a 75-71 victory in Chapel Hill on Feb. 15.
The Panthers held a 14-point lead at intermission (39-25) and kept pouring it on after the break, posting a rather easy 29-point rout of the Demon Deacons on Thursday. Lamar Patterson led the way with a game-high 24 points. Talib Zanna just missed a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Josh Newkirk chipped in with 10 points off the bench for Pittsburgh, which shot an impressive 50 percent from the floor overall.
Aggressive play at both ends of the floor is what Pittsburgh brings to the table. The Panthers finished third in the ACC in scoring (72.6 ppg), fifth in scoring defense (62.5 ppg), third in scoring margin (+10.1) and second in rebounding margin (+6.4). Both seniors, Patterson and Zanna lead the way. The 6-foot-5 Patterson ranked fifth in the conference in scoring in the regular season at 17.6 ppg. The 6-9 Zanna added 12.5 ppg and ranked second in the ACC in rebounding (8.3 rpg).
UNC battled through its share of adversity, as its top player P.J. Hairston never suited up and guard Leslie McDonald missed a fair share of games. Others stood up and led the way in Chapel Hill, starting with sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who wore two hats, serving as the team's top scorer (17.1 ppg) and distributor (4.5 apg). Paige earned All-ACC First-Team honors for his efforts. The supporting cast was instrumental as well, thanks to the play of Second- Team honoree James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg), McDonald (10.7 ppg) and Brice Johnson (10.2 ppg).