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Preview: No. 20 Panthers prep to take on No. 21 Louisville Cardinals

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Men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon prepares the team for the matchup against Louisville this Thursday.  Nikki Moriello  | Visual Editor

Men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon prepares the team for the matchup against Louisville this Thursday. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon prepares the team for the matchup against Louisville this Thursday. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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PREDICTION:

PITT 88 LOUISVILLE 81

Pitt has surrendered 80-plus points to opponents in its last two contests, and after Louisville suffered through a poor shooting performance in its loss to Clemson Sunday, it’s unlikely that the Cardinals will lay another egg. Pitt hasn’t won at Louisville since 2007, but it currently retains its best offense and free throw-shooting team in years. If the Panthers are leading in crunch time, expect them to pull out the victory, as they are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the Cardinals’ scoring duo of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis and closing the game out by converting free throws. Louisville didn’t intimidate Pitt when speaking to the media Tuesday, and the Panthers won’t play with any reservationsin the KFC Yum! Center.

KEY STATISTICS

79.3%

Pitt’s free throw percentage this season, the best mark in the nation.

64.9%

Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku’s field goal percentage this season, which is second in the ACC.

69

Despite playing in one fewer game than the Cardinals, Pitt has made 69 more free throws than Louisville. The Panthers have only attempted 39 more than Louisville.

THREE KEY PLAYERS

JAMES ROBINSON- GUARD, PITT

While Robinson is most known for his efficient offense and, recently, his improved shooting, he’ll also be crucial inother facets of the game. Robinson will need to be smart with the ball against the Cardinals’ sporadic full-court press. Jamie Dixon will also count on him defensively to shut down Donovan Mitchell, Trey Lewis or Damion Lee.

CHINANU ONUAKU- CENTER, LOU

Onuaku is one of the most efficient shooters in the ACC, but he is just as stout on the defensive end. He faces one of his toughest opponents yet this season in Pitt’s Michael Young, who is averaging more than 17 points per game and will make defenders pay when they foul, as he shoots 87 percent from the line. Onuaku is fourth in the ACC in blocks per game and will need to provide a few to nullify Young’s production.

DAMION LEE- GUARD, LOU

Prior to last Saturday’s game against Clemson, Lee was surging from beyond the arc, shooting just about 40 percent. But against Clemson he went 0-7 from three, his worst shooting performance of the year, dropping his percentage three percent. Still, Lee is too good a shooter to not immediatelyright the ship. Louisville has relied on him and fellow transfer Lewis — who went 1-11 from three against Clemson — to provide long-range potency. They’ll need an improved performance from both, but particularly from Lewis, their leading scorer, to have a chance against the Panthers.

QUOTES:

“Obviously [this is] the grad transfer championship right here.” — Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon on Saturday’s game. Pitt has three graduate transfers, while Louisville has two.

“I mean, they are an execution machine, and their statistics bear it out.” — Louisville head coach Rick Pitino on Pitt.

“It’s definitely one of the toughest places to play, especially when they make a run of their own and get the press going.” — Pitt forward Michael Young on the KFC Yum! Center environment.

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Preview: No. 20 Panthers prep to take on No. 21 Louisville Cardinals