Pitt men’s basketball faces its toughest test of the early 2022-23 season Wednesday night in the Vivid Seats Legends Classic. The Panthers will face No. 20 Michigan from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Pitt began the year with an 80-58 victory on opening night hosting UT Martin before losing the Backyard Brawl to West Virginia 81-56.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s matchup against Michigan.
Smart Ball for All
Pitt struggled to take care of the ball and keep its best players on the floor facing the Mountaineers. The Panthers turned the ball over 19 times and shot 19-for-45 (42%) from the floor. Fouling was also a major issue in keeping pace with WVU. Nelly Cummings fouled out, Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton finished with four, and Federiko Federiko and Nate Santos both totaled three apiece. The Panthers held their own with Bob Huggins’ team until both Burton and Hinson had to sit with an early two personals. Five Panthers had two first-half fouls.
The absence of numerous contributors opened the door for graduate student Greg Elliot to display his capabilities. A 6-foot-3 transfer guard from Marquette, Elliot scored 12 points on three triples and three free throws, making the most shots behind the arc of any player. He is a career 40.9 percent three-point shooter and looks to help the team dig out of its recent rut from deep. Pitt made 5-of-23 (22%) threes in the loss on Friday.
Burton turned the ball over a game-high eight times and contributed to WVU’s 19 points off of turnovers. The Panthers will be needing a strong performance from their guards against a Michigan squad forcing 7.5 steals per game and turning the ball over 7.5 less than Pitt. Pitt is tied for 325th in the country averaging 17 turnovers through the first two games.
Hugley Help on the Way
Head coach Jeff Capel announced Monday that forward John Hugley is likely to make his season debut this week. Following the loss to West Virginia, Capel explained Hugley’s importance to the team and the impact he makes on the Panthers when on the floor.
“We need John, but this game is not just an example of that,” Capel said. “John is one of the better players in our league, and so we definitely need him.”
Hugley averaged 13 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. He was named an All-ACC Honorable Mention his sophomore year and his 157 free throws were the 26th most in the country. The Panthers have relied on Hinson and Federiko to fill in for the 6-foot-9 big man battling a knee injury. Hinson is averaging team highs in points (16) and rebounds (8) while Federiko is totaling nine points and six and a half rebounds.
Michigan made the Sweet 16 in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and welcomed back star big man Hunter Dickinson for his third season as a Wolverine. Dickinson has guided Michigan to a 2-0 start to the year, both at home, defeating Purdue Fort Wayne 75-56 and squeaking by Eastern Michigan 88-83.
Dickinson has been a force down low, leading the team with a 29% usage percentage and totaling team highs in points (26.5) and rebounds (9.5). The 7-foot-1 center is a two-time All-Big Ten winner and was the 2020-21 Big Ten Rookie of the Year averaging 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He upped his totals to 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds while chipping in an average of 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks.
Freshman guard Jett Howard, son of head coach and Fab Five member Juwan Howard, has entered the fold as a significant piece of the starting lineup. Howard contributed 21 points and five assists against Purdue Fort Wayne and played 33 minutes facing Eastern Michigan. The 6-foot-8 wing is shooting over 40% from behind the three-point arc.
Michigan ranks 29th in the county in scoring (76.1 points) and outshoots Pitt by around nine percent from the floor. The Panthers are only shooting at 38.8% but have found success rebounding the basketball on the offensive end. With the potential addition of Hugley returning to the fold, the offensive glass is an area for Pitt to exploit against a Michigan team tied for 321st (6.5) in the country in offensive boards.
Michigan is favored by 8.5 points in Wednesday’s latest odds, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The line moved a point from late Tuesday afternoon.
Pitt finished the 2021-22 season 15-17 against the spread. The Panthers are 1-1 ATS this year, covering the 8.5-point spread against UT Martin but falling short against WVU.
The over/under for the game is set at 139 points and Pitt is +330 on the money line with Michigan at -410. Michigan was 14-20 against the spread last season and is 1-1 through two games.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Pitt and Michigan game will air on ESPNU Wednesday at 6 p.m. Kevin Brown and Jon Crispin have the call from Brooklyn. The action can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
The Panthers will play an additional opponent yet to be announced in the Legends Classic Thursday night at either 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. on ESPNU.