Following a 91-60 rout at the hands of No. 20 Michigan, the Pitt Panthers return to the court Thursday night to close out the Vivid Seats Legends Classic.
The Panthers struggled mightily in the second half against Michigan, placing them in the tournament’s consolation game. Pitt will face VCU from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s (1-2) matchup against VCU (2-1).
Toughness and Turnovers
Pitt hung around against one of the Big Ten’s top teams. The Panthers limited 7-foot-1 big man and unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection Hunter Dickinson to 11 points but distributed five assists, second on the team behind Dug McDaniel’s eight off the bench. Jeff Capel’s team trailed 38-32 at halftime, shooting 11-for-26 (42%) from the floor and making 6-of-8 (75%) free throws. When the second half began and the Panthers were challenged to a much greater extent, the team folded in on itself en route to an over 30-point defeat.
“But when adversity hits, the past two games, we’ve dropped the rope,” Capel said after the game. “That’s where we have to be better, that’s where we have to grow up. There has to be more of a toughness – both mentally and physically – in those moments.”
Pitt was outscored 53-28 in the second half as Michigan depended on spurts of short runs to drive up the lead. Committing 13 turnovers did not help the team’s cause. Pitt has turned the ball over 32 times in its last two games compared to 17 giveaways by the opposition. Michigan made 18-of-25 (72%) shots and drowned the Panthers in threes, making 7-of-9 attempts. Protecting the three-point arc and being tougher on the defensive end will be crucial aspects for Pitt to snap a two-game losing streak.
Pushed in the Paint
Despite the return of John Hugley to the starting lineup, the Panthers were pushed around Wednesday close to the basket. Pitt was outscored 38-18 in the paint and outrebounded 36-30. Hugley scored nine points and only totaled one rebound in 22 minutes, the least of any starter. He made his way back from a knee injury to once again make his presence known at the foul line, making four of a team-high six attempts.
Partly due to the run of points Michigan completed in the second half, the Panthers needed to find ways to climb from behind. Federiko Federiko could be an important player to watch for against VCU. Relegated to the bench upon Hugley’s reintroduction in the lineup, the transfer center did not attempt a shot in 15 minutes and secured two rebounds. Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton both played 30 minutes and combined for 27 points and 11 rebounds, but also six turnovers as the Panthers faltered.
Greg Elliot made two of his six three-point shots, totaling 12 points altogether, but Nelly Cummings fouled out totaling only four points and three turnovers. The Panthers need to play a cleaner game and rely on their size in Hinson (6-foot-7), Hugley (6-foot-9), and Federiko (6-foot-11) to clean up the glass and set the tempo for a tough and physical brand of basketball under Capel.
VCU lost by four points to Arizona State, 63-59, in the opposite side of the tournament bracket. The Rams were missing star Ace Baldwin Wednesday and will remain out against the Panthers with a wrist injury. The junior starting point guard was named All-Atlantic 10 Conference Second Team his sophomore season and ranked third in the country in steals per game (2.54).
The Rams relied on guard Jayden Nunn (13 points) and their height inside to counteract Baldwin’s absence. Jamir Watkins (6-foot-7) and Brandon Johns (6-foot-8) each scored 10 points and combined for 10 rebounds in VCU’s first loss. Head Coach Mike Rhoades has won over 100 games since being hired prior to the 2017-18 season and led his team to wins against Manhattan and Morgan State prior to the tournament.
15 turnovers plagued VSU against the Sun Devils and were outscored 35-24 in the second half following a 35-28 advantage after 20 minutes. Known historically as a solid defensive team, VCU is forcing over 10 steals per game (10.3) which ranks tied for 50th in the nation. Pitt does statistically perform better at shooting free throws and rebounding but the turnover component will play a large role in the night’s outcome pinning two similar-scoring teams averaging 70 points per contest.
VCU is favored by 4 points in Thursday’s latest odds, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The line shifted up 1.5 points from its opening at VCU -2.5 points.
Pitt finished the 2021-22 season 15-17 against the spread. The Panthers are 1-2 ATS this year and did not cover against either West Virginia or Michigan.
The over/under for the game is set at 129.5 points and Pitt is +145 on the money line with Michigan at -170. The Rams are 0-3 against the spread this season.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Pitt-VCU game will air on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Kevin Brown and Jon Crispin have the call from Brooklyn. The matchup can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt returns home Sunday afternoon to begin a three-game homestand hosting SWAC member Alabama State. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.