The 7-1 Virginia Cavaliers head to Pittsburgh this weekend to take on the 6-2 Panthers in a huge ACC showdown. To get us ready for the game, our friend Jim Hammett from Pitt's excellent blog across SBNation, Cardiac Hill, helped us preview the team. I answered some questions for them as well. Here's our discussion:
Streaking the Lawn: Much has been made of Pitt's weak OOC schedule (no road games, and just one game against a likely NCAA tourney team, a loss to Cincinnati), which kept the Panthers unranked until recently despite a KenPom ranking consistently in the top 10. How did that happen, and how do fans feel about that lack of media respect?
Cardiac Hill: This is not a new occurrence for the Pitt basketball program. National and local media alike typically give Jamie Dixon a ton of flak for the type of non conference schedule Pitt plays year in and year out. Whatever the reasoning is, Pitt usually plays 1-2 tough non conference games and a lot of cupcakes.
Not only did Pitt have the weak non conference schedule holding them back, but also the early departure of Steven Adams to the NBA, JJ Moore and Trey Zeigler transferring, and two important seniors graduating made for a rough offseason. On top of all else, Pitt had a poor showing in March last season, so the program did not have a ton of believers heading into this season. So while most of us thought Pitt cracked the top 25 about 4-5 weeks too late, there was plenty of reason why beyond the strength of schedule.
STL: Stopping the Pitt offense means somehow slowing down Lamar Patterson, who was inexplicably snubbed from the Wooden Award midseason list. What makes him so dangerous?
CH: There are three things that make Lamar Patterson a dangerous player. The first of which is experience. Lamar Patterson is a fifth year senior, and while most of top college basketball programs buy into the one and done, Pitt still embraces having guys wait their turn and work within the system. Patterson's jump in scoring from 10 points a game last year to 17 this year is just another instance of Jamie Dixon magic.
The second thing about Lamar's game is that he is a very good shooter. Patterson has knocked down 40% of his three pointers this season, and is definitely Pitt's best and really only consistent outside shooting threat. Aside from that, he is versatile in his 6-5 frame to get to the rim or play that outside game.
The third thing about Patterson's game is he is a terrific passer, and leads the team in assists. He is one of those guys that is a "stat sheet stuffer" as it seems he always has around 5-6 assists, 6-7 rebounds, and a few steals, and all the while leading the team in scoring.
STL: Which (non-Patterson) player(s) do you think Wahoo fans have to worry about having a big game on Sunday?
CH: Pitt plays about a 9 deep rotation, and there is certainly a separation among which players are more important than others. Patterson is obviously the go-to-guy, but two other players prove to be instrumental to this basketball team.
Talib Zanna is a fellow fifth year senior alongside Patterson, and has really stepped up his game this season. Unlike past seasons, Zanna carried over big non conference stats into league play this year. He averages 13 and 8 this year, and can be a force inside.
James Robinson may not put up the stats some Pitt fans want, but he really keeps this team in line. He ranks first in the nation (!!!) in assist to turnover ratio, and for the life of me I will never understand why that does not seem to be enough for people. Pitt is not as good of a team without Robinson on the floor. Period.
STL: What are your impressions of ACC play so far? How does it compare to your days in the Big East?
CH: As far as athletics as a whole, no doubt the ACC is a serious upgrade. As far as basketball goes, I'm not as convinced yet. I hate to sound snobbish, but the 16 team conglomerate that was the Big East the past 5-6 seasons was the best basketball conference ever. In reality you are talking ten consistent programs (even West Virginia) making the tournament nearly every year, so in that regard Pitt battled with the best year in and year out and did more than just hold their own.
Joining the ACC is not a downgrade, but it creates more opportunities for Pitt to finish towards the top of the league. Once Louisville joins, and North Carolina and Notre Dame get over their down seasons, you will start to see that nightly grind Big East fans always talked about. I mean look at Pitt's games with Cincinnati and Syracuse this year, just grind it out type wars. Those games happened EVERY NIGHT from January to March in the Big East. I'm excited about new rivalries with the schools on Tobacco Road, UVA, and Maryl..nope that's it, but it is still hard to lost the games with Villanova, UConn, and Georgetown.
STL: Prediction time - How do you see this one playing out?
CH: I'll take the Seahawks, oh you mean...well in that case I just do not see Pitt losing two games at the Petersen Events Center (The Pete) in a row. Pitt is nearly unstoppable in their home basketball palace, and it truly is a tough place for the opposition with the Oakland Zoo breathing down their neck.
As far as the two teams match up, well I see very similar teams. Virginia is more defensive minded, but at the same time Pitt built this program on defense. This is a pivotal game for Pitt, because like I mentioned with the weak nonconference schedule and their two losses coming to ranked teams, Pitt does not have a signature win. Does unranked Virginia qualify as a signature win? Probably not. Would it be Pitt's best win to date? Yes.
I think the teams are similar in a lot of ways, and the Patterson-Harris showdown will be something to see, but I just like Pitt at home. Virginia and Pitt are both susceptible to ugly low scoring games, so I expect a tight one maybe played in the 50's. So I'll say Pitt 58 UVA 53.
Thanks again to Jim from Cardiac Hill - we look forward to a great game!