Pitt men’s basketball hits the road Friday night for only its second road game to start the 2021-22 season.
The Panthers ended a two-game losing streak against The Citadel and West Virginia to beat UNC Wilmington and Towson but struggled against a strong defensive Vanderbilt team, dropped to UMBC, and lost a heartbreaker 54-53 finish at the hands of Minnesota.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (2-5) matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers (5-3).
Striding for more surprises
The Panthers surprised people against Minnesota at the Petersen Events Center and almost pulled out a victory. A Luke Loewe putback with 2.4 seconds remaining was the difference-maker in the final outcome, but Pitt held their own most of the game. Pitt has had a forgettable season record-wise this year but could shape some positives into memorable moments.
John Hugley was a major factor for the Panthers, scoring a game-high 25 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Outside of Hugley, no one else noticeably stood out offensively. A potential surprise could come in the form of bench points, with Pitt scoring only nine in the low-scoring affair. One way could be from Nate Santos or Daniel Oladapo, who combined to play only 11 combined minutes. Not just offensively, but defense needs to be a critical factor for Pitt to compete.
“We know that they’re going to be extremely physical, that’s how they play,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “So we have to be able to match that.”
Taking care of the ball and coming up short of their over 15 turnovers a game will help Pitt immensely to surprise others. The Panthers are in need of a victory to turn the season around, and an ACC opening win would make Jeff Capel’s team feel slightly better about the struggling season.
One critical area that will decide the game is Pitt’s offensive efficiency. Especially on the road, Pitt will face a tough challenge in a hostile environment, relying on inexperienced players in the system to get the job done.
“Offensively we have to be able to produce some points,” Capel said. “They are a very difficult team to score against, and we have to be connected in what we’re doing, we have to know what we’re doing, and then we have to be able to go out and execute against their physicality.”
Matching physicality on the offensive side will be a potential way the Panthers can counteract Virginia’s tough defense. Missing Ithiel Horton and Nike Sibande the entire season, Pitt needs someone to make a difference in the conference outside of Hugley. Look for William Jeffress and Jamarius Burton to make major impacts if the Blue and Gold are to pull off the major upset.
The Latest on Virginia
The Virginia Cavaliers have always been known for one thing under head coach Tony Bennett, defense, defense, and you guessed it more defense. Virginia is not the same ACC threat as previous seasons in Bennett’s 13th year but still poses a tough threat.
Virginia did not allow a team to score over 70 points until last time out against Iowa in a 75-74 loss but only earns a 93 defensive rating, tied for 104th best in the country. Being a primarily defensive team, the Cavaliers struggle on the offensive end, scoring fewer points per game than the Panthers do in the early going. At 358th overall, Virginia relies on taking care of the ball and highly efficient shots.
Once again Pitt holds the margin on the glass, outrebounding Virginia statistically but lacking in the free-throw department. UVA also struggles from three and relies on inside shots to get the job done. The team has defeated Radford, Coppin State, Georgia, Providence, and Lehigh, losing to Navy, Houston, and Iowa. Bennett’s team is in line for another potential win to open ACC action.
Forward Jayden Gardner leads Virginia in points (14) and rebounds (8.3) leading the team as a dependable senior leadership. Guards Armaan Franklin (11.8) and Kihei Clark (10.9) also chip in on the offensive side to complement their defensive talents.
“Defensively, we have to keep them out of our paint, we have to contain penetration,” Capel continued. “We have to do a good job on Gardner who is their leading scorer. He’s a guy that is mainly inside, although last game against Iowa he stepped out and made two threes.
Virginia is favored by 13.5 points in Friday afternoon’s latest odds.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread and 5-3 on the road. The Panthers are 3-4 against the spread this season.
The over/under for the Panthers’ fifth-straight home game is set at 112.5 points.
Virginia is 5-3 this season but 3-5 against the spread.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Minnesota and Pitt matchup will air on the ACC Network Friday night beginning at 8 p.m.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt returns to the Pete Thursday at 8 p.m. and airs on the ACC Network and 93.7 The Fan.