Home What UVA Basketball fans need to know about Pitt

What UVA Basketball fans need to know about Pitt

Chris Graham
xavier johnson pitt vt
Xavier Johnson drives to the rim for two of his 32 points in Pitt’s 83-72 win over Virginia Tech. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pitt had lost three straight, including a dispiriting 26-point loss to second-division Notre Dame. So naturally the Panthers rolled #16 Virginia Tech Wednesday night.

And how they did it: getting a big night not from the usual suspect, 6’6” sophomore Justin Champagnie (19.3 ppg, 12.2 rebs/g, 52.4% FG, 37.5% 3FG), but rather, 6’3” junior Xavier Johnson (14.5 ppg, 6.1 assists/g, 40.9% FG, 32.8% 3FG), who had just been benched by coach Jeff Capel after a rough four-game stretch in which he had averaged 8.8 points per game on 31.6 percent shooting.

Consider the message from coach to player sent: Johnson had 32 points, shot 11-of-17 from the floor, 4-of-7 from three, and had seven assists to key the Panthers on what was an off-night from Champagnie (10 points, 3-of-8 shooting, 10 rebounds).

The Panthers also got good production from 6’3” sophomore Ithiel Horton (9.1 ppg, 39.0% FG, 36.7% 3FG), who had 15 points, and 6’6” junior Au’Diese Toney (14.6 ppg, 6.0 rebs/g, 45.2% FG, 31.1% 3FG), who added 14.

What stands out is that Pitt scored 83 and shot 50 percent from the floor against the Hokies, who had just held Notre Dame and Virginia to 51 in back-to-back wins last week.

Was it an outlier performance? The season numbers for Pitt – which is shooting 42.8 percent from the floor, 248th nationally, and 32.6 percent from three, 218th nationally – might suggest yes.

Their KenPom.com efficiency numbers – 1.071 points per possession, ranking 85th nationally – make you want to dive deeper, though, and when you do that dive, you see that one area this team excels in is getting to the line.

In conference play, Pitt is averaging 21.1 free throw attempts per game, best in the ACC.

And it’s not just one guy. Toney leads with 5.9 attempts per game, but Johnson (5.3) and Champagnie (4.3) are regulars at the stripe.

Breakdown: offense

Efficiency numbers from Synergy Sports.

Inside game (post-ups, lane cuts and stickbacks): 27.4 percent of the offensive possessions

This is the why to the free throws. In an era in which the game is played on the perimeter, Capel has his team playing as close to old school as possible.

  • Who to watch for: Champagnie (18-of-24, 75.0%, 1.444 PPP on stickbacks, 12-of-21, 57.1%, 1.214 PPP in on post-ups, 23-of-41, 56.1%, 1.149 PPP on lane cuts), Toney (10-of-18, 55.6%, 1.269 on stickbacks, 12-of-22, 54.5%, 1.107 PPP on lane cuts) and 6’8” sophomore Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (6-of-9, 66.7%, 1.500 PPP on stickbacks, 5-of-9, 55.5%, 1.154 PPP on post-ups, 10-of-18, 55.6%, 1.100 PPP on lane cuts).

Spot-ups: 23 percent of the offensive possessions

Pitt is just average here (81-of-154, 34.5%, 0.876 PPP).

  • Who to watch for: Champagnie (16-of-35, 45.7%, 1.216 PPP), and Horton (29-of-69, 42.0%, 1.111 PPP).

Transition is 17.5 percent of the offense

Capel likes to push tempo. KenPom.com has Pitt at 69.4 possessions per game, 135th nationally.

  • Who to watch for: Johnson (27-of-39, 69.2%, 1.217 PPP, 12 TOs), Champagnie (13-of-26, 50.0%, 1.135 PPP), Toney (11-of-22, 50.0%, 1.083 PPP).

Pick-and-rolls: 15.4 percent of the offense

Below average in both P&R ball handler (31-of-97, 32.0%, 0.653, 31 turnovers in 150 uses) and P&R roll man (9-of-24, 37.5%, 0.786 PPP).

  • Who to watch for: Johnson (16-of-47, 34.0%, 0.729 in P&R ball handler situations), Coulibaly (5-of-8, 62.5%, 1.091 PPP).

Breakdown: defense

Champagnie ranks third in the ACC, per Sports-Reference.com, in defensive efficiency (91.9). His 12.2 rebounds per game leads the ACC, by far (no one is in double-digits per game).

His 0.722 PPP is best among the Pitt rotation guys, all of whom rank as “good” or “very good” in the Synergy Sports rendering.

Also rating well: Horton (0.734 PPP), Toney (0.743 PPP), 6’5” freshman Femi Odukale (0.760 PPP) and Johnson (0.786 PPP).


Capel will want to attack Jay Huff (13.7 ppg, 6.1 rebs/g, 2.3 blocks/g, 61.8% FG, 45.5% 3FG) in the post to try to get him in foul trouble.

Problem is: how?

Pitt’s best post guys are Champagnie and Toney.

Who Tony Bennett assigns to man up with Champagnie will be interesting. It will either be 6’8” Sam Hauser (14.9 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 50.0% FG, 41.4% 3FG) or 6’9” Trey Murphy III (11.3 ppg, 3.3 rebs/g, 51.9% FG, 49.3% 3FG).

One gets Champagnie; the other gets Toney.

Both are beasts on the boards.

Expect to see a lot of post-to-post doubles with Huff, who probably gets Coulibaly (5.3 ppg, 4.0 rebs/g, 54.7% FG).

Huff’s fouls aren’t as likely on Coulibaly as they are on help.

Pitt isn’t likely to beat you in a sustained way on spot-ups or pick-and-rolls.

Limit the transition by limiting live-ball turnovers, double the ball out of Champagnie’s hands, keep Huff out of foul trouble, and you should be good on the defensive end.

On offense, the mover-blocker seems to have bogged down the past couple of games.

I’d expect more five-high offense with Huff seeing over top of Coulibaly at the top of the key and the triangle looks with Hauser and Kihei Clark (9.7 ppg, 4.3 assists/g, 46.1% FG, 30.0% 3FG) in the post.

At a glance

  • Offense: Pitt 107.1 (85), Virginia 115.6 (11)
  • Defense: Pitt 96.3 (80), Virginia 90.8 (18)
  • Tempo: Pitt 69.4 (135), 59.8 (357)

Efficiency data from KenPom.com


Pitt (9-5, 5-4 ACC) at #14 Virginia (12-3, 8-1 ACC)
4 p.m., ACC Network

  • ESPN BPI: Virginia +13.2, 91.8% win probability
  • BartTorvik: Virginia 69-58, 89% win probability
  • KenPom.com: Virginia 69-58, 84% win probability

Story by Chris Graham

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].