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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Cardiac Hill

#11 Hoos head to Pittsburgh for battle at the Zoo.

NCAA Basketball: Marshall at Pittsburgh
Jamel Artis provides a formidable foe.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is no doubt that the ACC is fully underway and chaos is already reigning as Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech (WHAT?) sit atop the standings. Virginia, which is 1-1 in conference after a win at Louisville and a loss at home to FSU, will look to pick up another crucial road win as they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. In order to understand more about our friends up north, I reached out to Anson Whaley (@AnsonWhaley) who writes for Cardiac Hill (@PittPantherBlog).

STL: You're in your first season under new head coach Kevin Stallings. What is the fan base's take on him so far? What do you think this team's ceiling is?

CH: As a whole, the fanbase is not all that impressed so far. There are mostly two camps right now - the camp that thinks it was a bad hire and unwilling to really give him much of a chance and the camp that is not all that optimistic, but willing to see how it goes. There are some people that wanted Jamie Dixon out (I wasn't one of them) but even most of those folks didn't like the hire from what I gathered. I'm not aware of large swatches of fans that are enthusiastic about him and some recruiting losses as well as some blown leads and an embarrassing loss to City rival Duquesne haven't helped. Overall, Pitt performed pretty well this non-conference season purely in terms of wins and losses but that hasn't really gotten many people on board.

This year's ceiling remains pretty high, in my opinion. While I wouldn't bet on it, I think they are capable of making a Sweet 16 if they get into the NCAAs. They have two of the top three scorers in the ACC in Michael Young and Jamel Artis, and while they aren't deep, their top six guys are pretty good and it's a senior-heavy group. There is little doubt that they could win two games in the tournament if they got there. The real test begins next year when Pitt loses four of their five starters and has to replace the most production they have in a long time.

STL: Michael Young and Jamel Artis are playing fantastically early on this season. What makes them such a dangerous combo, and how can Virginia slow them down?

CH: Young and Artis are just a pair of very skilled players. In my mind, the thing that makes them difficult to defend is their inside-outside game. Artis, especially, can shoot from anywhere. Both are capable of scoring down low and also from beyond the arc. They also do other things very well. Young is a strong rebounder and Artis is one of the best passers at Pitt (in terms of court vision - he doesn't average a ton of assists) I've seen in a while. It is tough to imagine teams being able to take both of them out of the mix and the problem is you can't constantly double team both guys, of course. One of them may have an off night, but in those cases, the other usually picks up the slack. Artis had sort of a down game against Penn State with 'only' 16 points, but Young had 29. The next game against Rice, Young was down with 12 but Artis had 31. It's really more of a 1/1A combo instead of a 1/2 punch. Both are excellent scorers and borderline interchangeable when it comes to making shots.

STL: Who else should Virginia fans look out for when Pitt has the ball? What is your post presence like?

CH: The next guy to watch is generally Cameron Johnson. He'll be the lone starter returning next season and he's more than a capable No. 3 guy. Johnson is a big guard playing small forward and shooting nearly 50% from the field while scoring almost 13 a game. He's a good overall player that still needs some polishing, but he's only a sophomore. That kid can be really good in another year or two and his three-point shooting is what you have to watch. If he's on, I give Pitt a chance to pull off an upset.

The post presence is okay, but I'm not sure I'd call it a strength. Young and Sheldon Jeter (PF) are the two key guys there and both average nearly eight rebounds a game. Jeter's offense has been a point of frustration at times (in the team's last game against Notre Dame, he was only 3-10 from the field), but he's an above average rebounder and that's why Pitt has to play him. Anything more on offense that he gives Pitt beyond like 6-8 points is a bonus.

STL: Virginia is lacking the premier perimeter defender they had with Malcolm Brogdon, but are still first in the nation in holding teams to just 48.6 points per game. What will be the biggest key for Pitt offensively to pull off the upset?

CH: To me it's getting a third scorer. Even if Young and Artis don't hit their averages in this game, I expect those guys to do some damage. What Pitt needs is a nice game from someone else like Johnson or Jeter. The bench won't likely given them much beyond, perhaps, Ryan Luther who has put together some nice games this year. But if Pitt gets a third guy in the mix, I would give them a chance. That's most likely to be Johnson and, if so, his three-point ability could come into play.

STL: Virginia is extremely balanced on offense with nine players averaging between 4.9-9.9 points per game. How do you feel about Pitt's defense going into this game?

CH: The defense hasn't been great this year. As I wrote in a preview on Tuesday, I don't know that it's been terrible. But they've given up a lot of points already this season - they allowed 75 or more in the first four games this year and have also given up that much four other times. They've had enough offense most of the time this year but against a Virginia team where points are at a premium, obviously that's not too encouraging.

I'm concerned about Pitt at both ends of the floor, to be honest. And it's really the offense that has failed them against the Cavaliers. Since joining the ACC, Pitt has yet to score more than 50 points against Virginia. I think they exceed that total on Wednesday but they have really struggled to score against Virginia both home and on the road.

STL: Kyle Guy is coming on strong for the Hoos and has led the team in scoring four of the last five outings (ok, one of those times he tied with Devon Hall) and comes off the bench for Tony Bennett. What is your take on Pitt's depth, and how will that affect the game?

CH: Yeah, I noted Virginia's obscene amount of depth in our preview. That could be a problem for Pitt, who really only goes seven guys deep. This is one of the weaker Pitt teams I've seen in terms of depth. How it affects the game, though, I'm not sure. If someone gets into foul trouble or there's an injury, that's obviously a big blow. But for the most part, I'm okay with Pitt's best guys in there getting 30-35 minutes a game because their starting lineup is pretty good. Those guys are seniors and pretty experienced, too, so that helps. But there's no question that Pitt has a real depth issue and it will be interesting to see how they handle playing a team so deep.

STL: Have any predictions for the game?

CH: I can't pick Pitt to win this one but will say it wouldn't entirely surprise me, either. Like Virginia, Pitt is coming off of a loss and they have to know that these home games are very important to win. The Notre Dame loss was at home and while the Irish and Virginia are both ranked teams, you really want to see them get at least one of those games. I expect Pitt to come out super motivated and with a home-court advantage, could see a Pitt win.

All of that said, expecting them to win a game like this is something completely different. Virginia will be plenty motivated themselves coming off of the Florida State loss so by way of a prediction, I'd say something like Virginia by five.

Huge thanks to Anson and Cardiac Hill for their time and responses! Game tips off tonight at 9pm on Regional Sports Networks.