Coming off of its biggest victory of the 2021-22 season, Pitt basketball returns to the Petersen Events Center hosting Jacksonville.
After dropping five of their last six, Pitt pulled off a major upset of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, bringing back familiar memories inside the building from what now seems long ago in the Big East.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (4-7) final game before Christmas against the Jacksonville Dolphins (7-3).
Toughness Over Talent
Pitt displayed arguably its best showing of the year against St. John’s Saturday afternoon, winning 59-57 on a Jamarius Burton shot in the final second. St. John’s was missing Julian Champagnie, brother of former Pitt forward Justin and one of the Big East’s best players, due to a positive covid test, but the Panthers still needed to put their foot on the gas and move full throttle.
This year has been a relative disappointment in general, but the St. John’s win provides a slightly different perspective. Jeff Capel’s team fights till the final whistle and fails to give in against talented opponents. Pitt’s last five games have all been decided by four points or fewer.
Toughness and rebounding has been the name of the game in the Panthers four victories. In their final non-conference game before ACC competition ramps up, another win would go a long way for confidence and a collective morale. Pitt should win against Jacksonville, but provide another entertaining finish full of surprises.
Gifts for Everyone
Four days before Christmas, Jacksonville will be tough to fend off and provide presents for the entire Pitt roster. A strong offensive output, even if it’s efficient shooting in a low-scoring affair, will catapult Pitt in a position to win.
Mouhamadou Gueye, Femi Odukale, John Hugley, and Burton can cash in and earn some early stat-sheet stocking stuffers against a tough defensive team. Pitt’s ability to take high-percentage shots, limit turnovers, and controlling the offensive and defensive glass has done the trick all year and will continue to be the recipe for success.
Hugley (15.1), Burton (11), and Odukale (10.8) are the three Panthers averaging double figures scoring the basketball, with Hugley far and away leading in rebounds (8). Pitt has been well below average from behind the arc, as Gueye shoots just over 30% for the best on the team among significant contributors. Shooting the three at a higher clip would also be a positive surprise and help to assist Pitt’s strong efforts defensively.
Swimming with the Dolphins
Jacksonville’s offense doesn’t match the quality of opponents the Panthers have faced in recent weeks, relying on one of the country’s best defenses and pace themselves to 7-3. Winners of three in a row, the Dolphins are the fifth-best program in the country according to defensive rating (82.1).
One main factor in the team’s defensive production is the ability to take the ball away, producing over ten steals-a-game, doubling up the Panthers and then some. The defense makes up for a lack of offense scoring just under 66 points-per-matchup but shooting a better than average average 45%.
One category Pitt could control once again is rebounding, controlling more boards on both sides of the glass and playing tough to the final whistle. Jacksonville is 2-3 on the road, struggling away from home against solid teams in UCF, Minnesota, and Georgia. We could be in for another low-scoring game down to the final few possessions.
Jacksonville represents the Atlantic Sun East Conference and is led by guard Jordan Davis, the only player scoring in double figures, 11.2, in all 10 games. Kevion Nolan has started four of the five games he’s seen minutes, also averaging 11 points and over 41% from downtown.
Pitt is favored by 6 points in Tuesday morning’s latest odds.
Pitt ended last season 11-10-1 against the spread. The Panthers are 4-1 against the spread over the past five games but 1-3 overall when favored.
The over/under for the matchup against Jacksonville is set at 118.5 points and Pitt is -230 on the moneyline.
Tuesday marks the first matchup between the two teams since 1988. Jacksonville has not lost a game against the spread early this season.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Jacksonville and Pitt matchup will air on the ACC Network Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. Drew Carter and Malcolm Huckaby have the call.
The game can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt hosts Notre Dame next Tuesday at 8 p.m. for the Panthers’ second ACC game of the year.