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Torrid Virginia faces streaking Pitt, which has quietly won five of its last six

Chris Graham
uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Virginia fans already looking down the road 12 days to UNC on Feb. 24, beware, first, of Pitt, which is sneaky hot right now, with wins in five of its last six games.

Different midweek night this week – this one is set for Tuesday at JPJ (7 p.m. ET, ACCN).

After a 1-5 start in the ACC, the Panthers (15-8, 6-6 ACC) got their hot streak going with an 80-76 upset of Duke on Jan. 20.

The recent stretch includes wins over Wake Forest and NC State, and the loss was a four-point setback at Miami, so, yes, this is legit.

Credit to sixth-year coach Jeff Capel, who finally got Pitt to an NCAA Tournament last season, with a 24-12 finish that was also his first winning season at the school.

Pitt starters, rotation

The defensive game plan for UVA coach Tony Bennett has to be focused on 6’8”, 230-pound senior power forward Blake Hinson (17.9 ppg, 5.0 rebs/g, 44.0% FG, 41.3% 3FG), a big guy who can score in the post, but this year is firing up an awful lot of shots from three (8.1 3FGA/g).

6’5” freshman Carlton Carrington (13.6 ppg, 5.2 rebs/g, 4.2 assists/g, 39.7% FG, 28.6% 3FG) is listed as the third guard, but the assist numbers tell you he’s this team’s creative force offensively.

The point guard, 6’3” freshman Jaland Lowe (8.2 ppg, 2.7 assists/g, 38.5% FG, 32.1% 3FG), meanwhile, has come into his own of late – averaging 14.7 points and 3.4 assists per game over his last seven, shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and 36.0 percent from three over that stretch.

Rhode Island transfer Ishmael Leggett (12.1 ppg, 5.4 rebs/g, 2.3 assists/g, 42.0% FG, 34.3% 3FG), a 6’3” junior, is another tough matchup at the two-guard spot.

Leggett, who has 14 starts this season, has been coming off the bench of late, with High Point transfer Zack Austin (6.8 ppg, 4.1 rebs/g, 43.0% FG, 27.7% 3FG), a 6’7” junior, starting alongside Lowe and Carrington in the backcourt.

Leggett, though, still gets the bulk of the minutes (29.9 minutes per game over Pitt’s last six).

The tandem at center is 6’11” junior Federiko Federiko (4.9 ppg, 5.3 rebs/g, 1.4 blocks/g, 62.5% FG) and 7’0” sophomore Guillermo Diaz Graham (7.0 ppg, 4.1 rebs/g, 1.0 blocks/g, 49.2% FG, 36.0% 3FG).

How Virginia matches up

I’m thinking Bennett sticks with conventionality with his defensive matchups, with 6’3” senior Reece Beekman (13.8 ppg, 6.1 assists/g, 44.7% FG, 30.1% 3FG) on Lowe at the point, though we could see Bennett switch Beekman over to Carrington depending on how things go.

Andrew Rohde (4.9 ppg, 2.9 assists/g, 31.5% FG, 27.5% 3FG), a 6’6” sophomore, should draw the initial assignment on the 6’5” Carrington.

Expect to see 6’5” junior Taine Murray (3.0 ppg, 12.8 mins/g) get some minutes at the third guard spot as well, and maybe – maybe – some Leon Bond (4.6 ppg, 13.4 mins/g).

Bond, a 6’5” sophomore, has only gotten three minutes, all in garbage time in the 60-38 win over Miami last week, in his last four games, but Bond’s size and defense could be a value for limited minutes this time out.

Capel, on his side of the ledger, might want to give the 6’7” Austin more minutes to try to check 6’4” sophomore Isaac McKneely (12.3 ppg, 42.2% FG, 48.0% 3FG), who is coming off a career-high 29 points in the 80-76 win over Florida State on Saturday.

The featured matchup of the night will be at the four spot – with projected late-lottery pick Ryan Dunn (9.0 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 2.1 blocks/g, 58.4% FG, 24.0% FG) on Hinson.

Bennett will need to figure out how to get minutes for his offensive four, 6’9” grad senior Jake Groves (8.0 ppg, 50.7% FG, 51.4% 3FG), who is averaging 14.3 points in 22.3 minutes per game over his last four games.

Groves can and almost certainly will get some minutes at the third guard spot.

Down low, it’s the duo of Jordan Minor (4.3 ppg, 3.0 rebs/g, 50.7% FG) and Blake Buchanan (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rebs/g, 43.6% FG) checking Federiko and Diaz Graham at the five.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].