What UVA Basketball fans need to know about Pitt

Remember the train wreck that Jeff Capel inherited when he got the job at Pitt?

Kevin Stallings was only there for two seasons, and took the perennial NCAA Tournament contender that he inherited from Jamie Dixon (11 NCAAs in 13 seasons) to an 0-18 ACC season in Year 2, in 2017-2018.

Capel knows a little bit about rebuilding. He’s the guy that started the cycle of VCU guys to go on to big programs, going 79-41 in four seasons before taking the job at Oklahoma, which by Year 3 there he had winning 30 games and playing in the Elite Eight.

And then two years later, in 2011, after a pair of back-to-back losing seasons, he was done, reduced to slinking back to Durham to rebuild his career at the side of Coach K.

His first Pitt team made some marginal steps forward, going 14-19 overall, a six-win improvement over Stallings’ last team, and winning three in the ACC, two of the three being Louisville and Florida State.

This year started with another win over FSU, which got heads turning, though three days later, the Panthers lost to Nicholls State, and where Pitt is now is more of the same in terms of back-and-forth.

Pitt (15-12, 6-10 ACC) is in a bit of a downspout now, losing three straight and six of its last eight after a 4-4 start to conference play.

The concerning thing about the recent cold spell: back-to-back-to-back double-digit losses (to Clemson, Virginia Tech and Florida State).

Saturday’s game with UVA (18-7, 10-5 ACC) could be a bit of a last stand for the Panthers, who a week and a half ago were on the distant fringes of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and now have to be thinking NIT-or-bust.

Getting to know: Pitt

Capel will go four-guard around 6’10” junior Terrell Brown (5.4 ppg, 3.6 rebs/g, 19.4 mins/g, 53.7% FG), with minutes at the five also going to 6’8” freshman Abdoul Karim Coulibaly (2.4 ppg, 1.5 rebs/g, 9.5 mins/g, 42.0% FG) and possibly 6’9” senior Eric Hamilton (5.4 ppg, 4.2 rebs/g, 16.4 mins/g, 52.6% FG), who had been expected back from an ankle injury ahead of Tuesday’s loss to FSU.

The strength of this team is at guard, built around 6’3” sophomore point guard Xavier Johnson (11.8 ppg, 5.1 assists/g, 36.2% FG, 31.6% 3FG).

At two and three are 6’4” sophomore Trey McGowens (12.1 ppg, 3.6 assists/g, 36.0% FG, 29.6% 3FG and 6’6” Au’Diese Toney (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rebs/g, 46.0% FG, 31.4% 3FG), and then at stretch-four is intriguing 6’6” freshman Justin Champagnie (12.4 ppg, 7.2 rebs/g, 42.4% FG, 26.4% 3FG).

6’2” junior Ryan Murphy (8.9 ppg, 37.5% FG, 34.5% 3FG) has been slowly working his way back into the rotation after missing three games earlier this month after suffering a concussion in practice.

The limited minutes for Murphy have given 6’5” freshman Gerald Drumgoole (1.3 ppg) a chance to reach for the brass ring, but he’s been coming up short, scoring an aggregate five points on 1-of-5 shooting in 36 minutes in Pitt’s last three games.

How Virginia matches up

Tony Bennett, at the outset of the 2019-2020 season, would counter four-guard teams by starting 6’9” senior Mamadi Diakite (13.5 ppg, 6.6 rebs/g, 47.2% FG, 35.4% 3FG) at the five, and give limited minutes to 7’1” redshirt junior Jay Huff (8.2 ppg, 6.2 rebs/g, 58.1% FG, 35.0% 3FG) basically just backing up Diakite.

But Huff has shown himself capable on the defensive end in games against smaller, quicker teams, which is a big plus for Bennett, because his best offensive groups include both Diakite and Huff on the floor.

I’d expect to see Diakite on Champagnie, who leads Pitt in shot attempts at the rim (111) and is the team’s second most efficient player in the paint (64.0%).

5’9” sophomore Kihei Clark (10.6 ppg, 6.2 assists/g, 36.9% FG, 33.7% 3 FG) will need to avoid foul trouble trying to check Johnson, who leads Pitt in free-throw attempts (125) and is a decent finisher at the rim for a guard (51.1%).

The 6’4” McGowens and 6’6” Toney at two and three can be a size issue for a lot of teams, but Bennett can counter with 6’5” junior Tomas Woldetensae (7.2 ppg, 38.3% FG, 39.3% 3FG) and 6’8” senior Braxton Key (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rebs/g, 42.9% FG, 21.4% 3FG).


Virginia at Pitt, Saturday, noon
Pitt 54-53, 50% win probability
ESPN BPI: Virginia +1.5, 57.1% win probability

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press news
augusta free press news
augusta free press news