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Pitt ready for start of ACC play against North Carolina State

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 11:57 p.m.
Pitt's Talib Zanna scores between Youngstown State's Fletcher Larson (left) and Bobby Hain in the second half Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna scores between Youngstown State's Fletcher Larson (left) and Bobby Hain in the second half Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon during NCAA Tournament second-round action Thursday, March 21, 2013, at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Chaz Palla
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon during NCAA Tournament second-round action Thursday, March 21, 2013, at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Three years in the making, Pitt's historic debut in the ACC is being met with anticipation.

The Panthers (12-1) visit N.C. State (10-3) at noon Saturday at PNC Arena in the first of 18 ACC games. It's a new challenge for veteran Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose first 10 years in charge were spent in the Big East.

Pitt agreed to join the ACC in 2011.

“It's been going on and on, and we're looking forward to it. Now, we need to get ready for the real thing,” said Dixon, who guided the Panthers to three Big East championships, including two outright regular-season titles and one tournament championship. “Finally, the talk is over. The time is here to play.”

For senior center Talib Zanna, Pitt's transition to the ACC, although filled with anticipation and uncertainty, will be determined by the Panthers playing solid, fundamental basketball.

“They have a lot of good schools, a lot of history behind the names — Duke, North Carolina,” Zanna said.

“We can't keep thinking about that. We have to play our game and try to take the Big East game into the ACC.”

According to Dixon, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried favors a style similar to the Panthers.

“They're similar in a lot of things that they do and what we do,” Dixon said.

“Mainly (a) man-to-man defensive team that takes great pride in their execution of their half-court sets. We played against Coach Gottfried when he was at Alabama, and he's still running those UCLA sets. We're familiar with it, not at all surprised by what he's using.”

Despite losing four 1,000-point career scorers, N.C. State has won eight of its past nine games since a surprising home loss against North Carolina Central on Nov. 20.

Sophomores T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis are the only N.C. State players who appeared in last year's NCAA Tournament game against Temple. Warren leads the ACC in scoring and field-goal percentage. Lewis ranks second on the team in assists.

Wolfpack freshman guard Anthony Barber is second in scoring (12.2) and leads the team with 59 assists. Junior-college transfer Desmond Lee ranks third in scoring at 10.8 points per game.

“We're inexperienced and young,” Gottfried said. “But we're much better now than we were the first week of the season. I think they're ready to take the next step. They understand we've got 18 game opportunities in this league, and you've got to get as many wins as you can.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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