On Saturday afternoon, Pitt will take on arguably its toughest competition of the season at Virginia.
Here are five things to know ahead of the matchup at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
The veteran Johnson scored a career-high 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He hit four of his seven 3-point attempts, six of seven free throws, and also contributed seven assists and five rebounds. Perhaps the best sign for Pitt fans was that Johnson played 35 minutes and only had two personal fouls, something he has been struggling with all season.
To start off the game, Johnson came off the bench while Jeff Capel inserted Femi Odukale and Nike Sibande into the starting lineup. This clearly ignited a fire within Johnson, who quickly checked in and looked as driven and motivated as ever. While the numbers in this game are certainly eye-popping, another key to his performance was that he played relaxed. Johnson looked more calm and collected than he has in recent games in which he struggled to put up more than ten points in back-to-back conference losses.
While it is unfair to expect him to score 32 again on Saturday, Pitt will look to Johnson to provide a similar performance and lead the Panthers to a second-straight ranked win.
UVA AT THE TOP OF ACC
The No. 14-ranked Cavaliers are currently ranked as the No. 9 team in Kenpom.com’s rankings and No.6 according to the NCAA’s NET rankings.
With a 8-1 ACC record (12-3 overall), Virginia comes into Saturday as the top team in the conference. Its only conference loss came to Virginia Tech, who Pitt beat just days ago.
Tony Bennett’s team is the strongest defensive opponent that Pitt will face this season. The Cavaliers rank first in the conference in defense, allowing an average of just 59.7 points per game. While its offense is not as dominant, averaging just 71.3 points per game, Virginia still leads the conference in margin, averaging 11.6 more points per game than they allow.
Virginia is also undefeated at home this season, sitting at 7-0 at John Paul Jones Arena.
HOW WILL PITT BEAT VIRGINIA
One of the Cavaliers’ few weaknesses this season has been rebounding. They rank dead last in the ACC in rebounds per game, averaging just 31.8 compared to Pitt’s 40.5 (second in the conference).
While Pitt undoubtedly plays a smaller lineup than Virginia. The Panthers do have better rebounders than Virginia. Only 6-foot-8 Sam Hauser and 7-foot-1 Jay Huff grab more than six rebounds a game for the Cavaliers, as the two are averaging 7.1 and 6.1 per game.
Justin Champagnie, the ACC leader in points and rebounds, has proven that he can get the job done against anyone on the glass. His instincts around the rim and ability to high-point a missed shot like a receiver in football has led him to averaging 12.2 boards per game. Pitt also receives help on the boards from Au’Diese Toney (averaging six per game) and 6-foot-8 forward Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly, who is averaging four.
If Pitt wants to upset the Cavaliers, it is going to have to play to its strengths, which this season have been on the rebounding side of the game.
VEGAS LIKES THE CAVALIERS
According to popular betting service BetOnline, Virginia is currently favored by 11 points over the Panthers.
The moneyline is currently set at Virginia (-700) and Pitt (+520). Virginia has won nine of its last ten matchups against Pitt, including a slim three-point victory over the Panthers last season.
The over/under is hovering around 128, one of the lowest projected totals that has been seen this season in Pitt games. Pitt is averaging 73.1 points per game while the Cavaliers are scoring Virginia plays with one of the slowest paces in all of division one, and is ranked No. 7 in the entire country in average points allowed, giving up just 59.7. Pitt is allowing an average of 69.1 points per game, ranking No. 148 in the country.
Saturday afternoon’s game will be broadcast on ESPN, with tip-off set for 4 p.m. The game can also be streamed on the ESPN app with an appropriate cable provider login.
ESPN’s Dave O’Brien and Cory Alexander will be on the call for the late-afternoon matchup.