In the past five games, Florida State (12-6, 2-4) has faced four teams ranked in the nation's top 20. This beginning to conference play has not only given the Noles the toughest schedule in the ACC, but the toughest conference schedule in the nation.
Now FSU runs that streak of top-20 opponents to five of six, though Pitt (15-3, 4-2) is not exactly like the others. UNC, Miami, Virginia, and Louisville are all in Pomeroy's top-15 (and were favored over FSU), while the Panthers are just No. 49.
Three weeks ago we didn't know anything about this team, because - as Jamie Dixon is wont to do - they didn't play anyone in out-of-conference. Purdue, scheduled for them as part of the ACC - B1G Challenge, was their only opponent in Pomeroy's top 125. They lost that game by 13, and won everything else to go 11-1 in ooc play.
Then conference play began, and the Panthers promptly went 3-0, including an important road win at Notre Dame.
That was the high point.
Following their big road win which had Joe Lunardi pegging them as a 5-seed in the Dance, Pitt went to Louisville and ended up on the wrong end of a beat down. They scored just 41 points in 63 possessions.
But as FSU fans have seen, Louisville is pretty good. Pitt bounced back by clubbing Boston College, but then saw NC State come into their place and get the Wolfpack's first conference win.
So this team is capable of playing well, but is erratic.
Pitt is led by a bunch of upperclassmen, starting with 6-9 junior Michael Young. Young has spent most of his career as an undersized 5, but has figured out how to be effective. He's scoring 17.1 per game, draws a ton of fouls (6.2/40 min), and knocks down 86% of his FTs.
Jamel Artis, a 6-7 junior, makes 41% of his 3s, and scores 16.1 per game.
Vanderbilt transfer Shelden Jeter gives them another big body at 6-8, 225, and he's one of the top offensive rebounders in the ACC.
The team also features senior James Robinson at point guard, who may be the best PG in the nation when it comes to not turning the ball over. But Coach Dixon stated in the preseason that he wouldn't mind a few more turnovers if it meant that Robinson would be more aggressive getting to the rim. That hasn't happened, as his free throw rate has dropped for the 3rd straight year.
Pitt shoots the ball well (42nd in 2-pt%, 44th in 3-pt%), and as always is one of the best offensive rebounding (19th) teams in the nation.
The problems which have led to Pitt's inconsistencies come on the other end of the floor. Their defense is rated 158th, which would be the 2nd worst defense in Dixon's career at Pitt.
Five of six ACC opponents have scored more than a point per possession versus Pitt, and Florida State will need to make that six of seven. Pitt's offense is just too efficient for FSU to be able to win if the Noles have a poor shooting game.
The quality of FSU's shots will be key, and of course that hinges on whether or not point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes plays. Coach Hamilton has not commented on XRM's status for the game, except to say that no decision has been made.
Florida State opened as a 5-point favorite in Vegas, which seems to indicate that XRM is playing. That line will be interesting to watch as the day progresses.
The game tips Saturday at 4 PM from the Tuck, and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.