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StLouHoo's Preview:

Taming the Oakland Zoo

Pittsburgh Panthers

To truly cement its spot as an NCAA Tournament team and to secure an ACCT double-bye, UVA is going to have to win some road games the next couple weeks. First up, the Hoos fly to Pittsburgh for an early tip against the young, hungry Panthers. Pitt's playing for its NIT life at this point; what exactly is in store for the visiting Wahoos?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 22nd, 12:00 am ET
Location:Peterson Events Center, Pittsburgh, PA
TV:ESPN2

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:
Torvik:Ranks Pitt #107, predicts a 53-51 UVA win, 59% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Pitt #99, predicts a 55-54 Pitt win, 50% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#1 Xavier Johnson, 6'3" 200, SO
33.7 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, 31.6 3P%
SG#2 Trey McGowens, 6'4" 190, SO
33.5 mpg, 12.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 29.6 3P%
SF#11 Justin Champagnie, 6'6" 200, FR
31.9 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 42.4 FG%
PF#5 Au'Diese Toney, 6'6" 210, SO
29.4 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 46.0 FG%
C#21 Terrell Brown, 6'10" 235, JR
19.4 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 53.7 FG%
Key Reserves
G#24 Ryan Murphy, 6'2" 185, JR
28.0 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 1.5 apg, 34.5 3P%
G/F#4 Gerald Drumgoole Jr., 6'5" 200, FR
9.3 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 0.4 apg, 10.5 3P%
F#12 Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, 6'8" 215, FR
9.5 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 42.0 FG%
F/C#0 Eric Hamilton, 6'9" 250, SR
16.4 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 52.6 FG%

 

The ABC's of Pittsburgh:

A) This is a young club. Jeff Capel inherited a massive rebuilding job after Kevin Stallings went 0-18 in the ACC in 2017-18. He's largely turned over the entire roster in the year and change he's been there, with junior big man Terrell Brown the only member of his rotation left over from the old regime. That means the rest of the rotation is made up of newcomers, mostly youngsters. Sophomores Johnson, McGowens, and Toney made up his original signing class. This past offseason saw him bring in two tranfers (5th year grad transfer Hamilton and JuCo marksman Murphy) along with three more freshman in Champagnie, Drumgoole, and Coulibaly. KenPom ranks them 315th nationally in experience. With only one senior and two juniors, Capel's clearly building this roster with the long-term view in mind, but in the interim the youth occasionally shows.

B) Justin Champagnie's been an absolute steal. Much as we just talked about BC's Jay Heath going from zero to hero as one of this year's breakout freshman, now we must talk about Justin Champagnie. Ranked just 248th in 247sports' composite recruiting ranking last year, he's quickly become Pitt's leading scorer and the 4th-leading scorer among all ACC freshmen in league play (Nolley, Carey, and Heath being 1-3). What's been most surprising is he's doing it without blistering 3-point shooting (just 27% on the season), but he's been dynamite getting into the lane. He shoots well over 50% on his 2s and draws his share of fouls. He and Toney are interchangeable big wings playing the 3 and 4 in Capel's system, so he's able to exploit smaller guards with his size as often as he's able to blow past bigger 4s; he'll be a priority cover probably for Braxton Key in this one.

C) It's a 4-out-1-in offense. The Panthers run a 4-guard lineup almost exclusively. The Panthers have played 645 minutes of ACC games, and their trio of big men (Brown, Hamilton, and Coulibaly) have played 652 minutes combined, so it's incredibly rare to see either of them on the floor together in a two-big configuration. None of them have hit a single 3-point shot this year, so there's not really any floor spacing threat from the group... nice that we'll be able to keep rim protection (Huff, Caffaro) at home. To compensate they run four perimeter players around that 5-man. Johnson, McGowens, and Murphy are more traditional guards, while Toney, Champagnie, and Drumgoole fill more of a wing role. Other than the deep-reserve Drumgoole, all take at least 2.9 3PAs a game, so they're looking to spread the floor as much as possible to open up the floor for the dribble drive. They like to use that spread formation to drive-kick, generating offense off of ball movement, where they're 3rd in the ACC in assist rate, while turning it over at the 4th-lowest rate. It also draws help defenders, leaving other guys free to hit the offensive glass.

 

Their Season To Date

Pitt is 15-12 on the year, 6-10 in the ACC. In the non-conference they look a bad loss to Nicholls State early but rebounded by winning the Fort Myers Tip-off with wins over K-State and Northwestern, and later scored a solid home win over Rutgers. The opened ACC play in November with a home upset of FSU, but are just 5-10 in league play since, mostly due to a 1-7 road performance. At home, they're 5-3 in ACC play, including wins over GT, Miami, BC, and UNC, offset by an early close loss to Wake, an OT loss to Louisville, and most recently a 20-point drubbing by Clemson.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Keep them off the FT Line. Pitt's shooting percentages aren't very impressive, ranking last in the ACC in 2P% and 12th in 3P%. But they compensate with aggressive downhill play that all too often at least sends them to the line, ranking second in the league in FTA/FGA ratio. They're reminiscent of some of those maddeningly flailing Buzz Williams teams we used to see. The whistles have been especially kind at home, where they've topped 25 FTAs in five of their eight home ACC games. UVA, of course, prides itself on clean defense, 3rd in the ACC in defensive FT rate, but we've seen bad road performances from this group: 23 FTAs given at BC, 24 at Wake, and 24 at Louisville. Casey Morsell's absence (ankle injury sustained vs BC) doubles the importance that our guards (Kihei/Kody/Tomas) stay out of foul trouble.

2) Win the boards. Pitt is a bit bipolar on the boards. On the offensive end, they're aggressive, 5th in the ACC in offensive rebounding rate, and have grabbed double digit offensive boards in 6 straight games. Their wing-forwards Toney and Champagnie have been especially strong here, each averaging over 2 ORPG in ACC play, capitalizing on bad box-out assignments from opposing guards. As their shooting percentages have struggled this year, the ability to generate extra scoring opportunities has been critical. Virginia is 2nd in the league in defensive rebounding, so this will be a strength vs strength battle.

At the other end of the floor, however, Pitt has been atrocious securing their defensive glass. They rank dead last in the ACC, and 348th nationally, in team DR%. Virginia isn't necessarily known as a team that hits the offensive glass, but we've had good games here and there, cracking double-digit OR totals three times in January, though we've been cold in Feb. We'll have a size advantage for a lot of the game at the 3-5 spots, so hopefully we break out here and give our offense some extra opportunities.

3) Protect the ball. Pitt's defense struggles in some facets, one of those oft-unavoidable consequences of youth. They're last in the ACC in eFG% allowed, teams hitting a healthy percentage against them both from 3 (35.2%) and inside (51.2%), to go with their weaknesses on the glass discussed above. But where they shine is playing aggressive, disruptive defense. Pitt is one of the ACC's top 3 ball-hawking defenses, forcing turnovers on over 1/5th of all defensive possessions (17th nationally, 2nd in the league), both live-ball and dead. Only twice this season have they failed to register double-digit TOs forced. Five players average between 1-2 steals a game, and given UVA's struggles here (12th in the ACC in offensive turnover rate, 14th in live-ball), it becomes a potential difference maker. The Hoos have improved here of late, committing single-digit TOs in three of their last five games, but Pitt will provide another stiff test.

 

 

Predictions:

I think it's fair to characterize this Pitt team as "still a year away" while also acknowledging their real potential to score an upset here. They're young, which means road game environments are hard for them still, but they're finding out first how to be competitive at home as evidenced by the FSU upset and taking Louisville to overtime. They're healthy, which is more than a lot of ACC teams can say right now (UVA is likely without Casey Morsell in this one due to a rolled ankle).

They do seem to be fading a bit of late, though. Five of their last eight games have been on the road, and they never got a mid-week bye this year (technically theirs is on the last weekend of the season, so they'll get a full week to rest up for Greensboro). Of those last eight games, they've lost 6, with only single-digit home wins over Miami and GT to hang their hats on. Despite their strong home record, losing by 20 at the Pete to Clemson is very suspicious. Their last five opponents have all shot 37% or better from 3, so there's reason to hope UVA's long range renaissance can continue.

I would like this better if Morsell was healthy, as he would've let us play a smaller lineup for longer stretches to better deal with Pitt's 4-guard deployment, keeping Key at the 4 and our bigs limited to defending other bigs. As it is Diakite is going to have to spend time defending Toney and Champagnie in space. Maybe we see some Key/McKoy pairings at the 3/4 if necessary. But with that said, if UVA is locked in, hitting shots, playing clean defense, and can absorb the absence of Morsell with good minutes from Stattmann and Woldetensae, UVA should be able to earn the hard fought win here.

Hoos Win 62-56