‘Hoos previews: Virginia hosts new-look Pittsburgh
The last time Virginia and Pittsburgh met, it wasn’t pretty. The Panthers, playing out their last days under then-head coach Kevin Stallings, scored just seven first-half points on 4.5 percent shooting.
You read that right: 4.5 percent.
Virginia cruised to a 66-37 win. Pitt finished 8-24 and 0-18 in ACC play.
Over the offseason, Pitt brought in Jeff Capel, a former Duke assistant, to start the turnaround at what used to be one of the most consistent, toughest programs in the nation. The team lost six players — three to transfer and three to graduation — over the offseason as well. It was a period of major change.
But Capel and his new-look team got off to a good start. The Panthers won the Brooklyn Center Classic during the non-conference portion of the season and picked up their first ACC win in nearly 23 months in just their second conference game of the year, beating Louisville 89-86. After falling to NC State, the Panthers roared back to beat Florida St. and even its conference record at 2-2.
Since then, though, the wheels have fallen off. Pitt has lost 11 straight and resides at the bottom of the conference standings. But as early results show, the Panthers can play with some good teams, and they’ll be hungry for their first win in a month-and-a-half.
Virginia, meanwhile, just keeps rolling. The Cavaliers have won five straight and own a three-game winning streak against Pitt. De’Andre Hunter is playing some of his best basketball, and the supporting cast around him, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome has taken major strides.
Three Cavaliers to watch
De’Andre Hunter. Hunter is averaging 22 points per game over his last two contests, and no opponent has answer for his combination of size, skill, quickness and athleticism. The Panthers rank 12th in ACC play in defensive efficiency, so another big game could be in store. He scored a game-high 14 points in last year’s blowout.
Kyle Guy. The Panthers rank dead last in the ACC at defending the three-point arc, allowing opponents to shoot 37.7 percent from deep in conference play. Against Guy, that could be a major problem. Guy hit three threes against Georgia Tech on Wednesday and could be in line for another good performance from deep Saturday.
Kihei Clark. The freshman point guard finally broke out of a prolonged shooting slump with two threes and a nice layup against Georgia Tech, and he’ll hope to carry that over to Saturday’s matchup. Clark could be especially important in this game because a lot of Pitt’s offense comes from its backcourt.
Three Panthers to watch
Xavier Johnson. One half of Pitt’s young backcourt, Johnson paces the Panthers to the tune of 16.5 points per game and also leads the team in assists at 4.5 per contest. Johnson shoots over 39 percent from deep, but he can also get to the basket effectively and shoots over six free throws per game. Virginia will look to keep him quiet.
Trey McGowens. McGowens, the other freshman in Pitt’s backcourt, averages 11.8 points per game. A product of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, VA, McGowens has shown the ability to really fill it up when he gets going, having recorded seven games of at least 15 points. It seems that McGowens has hit a bit of a freshman wall — he has scored in single digits in seven of his last nine games — but he can get going in a hurry if Virginia allows him to do so.
Terrell Brown. At 6-foot-10, Brown is the tallest player on Pitt and the team’s only real rim-protecting presence. He’s third in ACC play in block percentage. Virginia has dominated the boards and the points in the paint in both of its recent contests, so Pitt needs Brown to be at his best Saturday.
KenPom says: Virginia, 71-50 (97 percent chance of victory)
- Pitt has one Virginia native: Xavier Johnson (Woodbridge).
- Virginia has one Pennsylvania native: De’Andre Hunter (Philadelphia).
- Pitt has never won at John Paul Jones Arena.
- The Cavaliers have won three straight in the series and are 14-4 against the Panthers all-time.
Story by Zach Pereles