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The Big Preview: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
When: Saturday 3/4, Noon
Where: John Paul Jones Arena (or the ACC Network / WatchESPN)

Obviously, a lot has changed since the Hoos lost to Pitt 2 months ago. Pitt had a rough stretch following that game in which they lost 8 in a row. They righted the ship a bit, winning 3 of 4 including a win over FSU. But they’ve since lost 3 in a row, the latest a 9 point loss to Georgia Tech.

If you’re reading this, you know what’s happened to the Hoos. You know that the team is riding high following a big home win over UNC on Monday. You also likely know that this is London Perrantes’ senior night, so there is bound to be quite a bit of emotion both on the floor and in the crowd. On Monday, London broke the team record with his 129th career start, moving him ahead of Ralph, Stith and Joe Harris for 1st all-time. This game will be his 133rd career game, tying him with Akil Mitchell for 6th all-time. He’s guaranteed at least 2 more, which would move him into a 3rd place tie with Harris. He’ll need 5 more games after this to tie Mike Tobey for 1st all-time.

Pitt’s offense really hasn’t been to blame for their woes. They rank 42nd in the nation in offensive efficiency (they were 32nd heading into the previous matchup). But their defense ranks just 143rd (127th at the time of the last matchup). During their losing streak, they’ve played some good games. They lost by 2 on the road to UNC, scoring 1.2 points per possession (ppp). But they also lost by 55 points at home to Louisville, scoring just 0.71 ppp.

Pitt’s offense relies heavily on the 3 ball. Almost 40% of their shots come from behind the 3 point line. Their upset of the Hoos back in January was almost entirely due to shooting 13/21 from 3. That said, they also crushed the boards, rebounding 40% of their own misses to UVA’s 17%. Three Pitt players have attempted more than 100 treys, and all 3 shoot it at a pretty good clip (36%+). They are led by sophomore wing Cameron Johnson, who shoots 42%. He made 4/5 against the Hoos. Jamel Artis, Pitt’s PG, shoots right at 40% and made 6/7 from 3 against the Hoos. He was 0/6 from 2 point range in the contest.

Pitt’s leading scorer, big man Michael Young, doesn’t shoot nearly as often from outside as the other two, but he still attempts over 3 per game. He was 0-3 against the Hoos, but was dominant inside with 19 points on 8/15 shooting on 2s. Young also had 5 assists and 6 rebounds.

Five Pitt players average over 28 minutes per game. This was, perhaps, their biggest weakness through the heart of the ACC season. With games rarely more than 3 days apart, the Panthers just got worn down. Pitt’s lineup features six guys who are 6’6” or taller. Of the 7 players who saw action against the Hoos in January, only freshman PG Justice Kithcart is under 6’6”, and he saw just 13 minutes. His minutes have diminished as the ACC season has progressed. He’s seen just 24 minutes combined in the last 3 games, and he hasn’t scored since a Feb 8th win over BC.

Artis really isn’t a PG, though he’s done an admirable job filling in there this year. He’s averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He isn’t much of a defender though, and has had trouble staying with the quicker PGs in the ACC. If he’s guarding London Perrantes, look for Tony to have London playing off the ball quite a bit, coming off screens all over the court. This will have the added benefit of tiring Artis out.

There is no similar plan to tire Michael Young out, unfortunately. The Hoos simply do not have an interior presence who can make Young work on the defensive end. Jack Salt has a size advantage on Young (and anybody else on Pitt), so maybe the Hoos will try to get ball inside to him with position. It would make Young work on defense while simultaneously freeing up the shooters on the perimeter. Young is a decent shot blocker, but isn’t a great one-on-one post defender. Problem is, Salt is a poor one-on-one post scorer. So it may not be an ideal plan of action.

Pitt’s two other bigs are Sheldon Jeter and Ryan Luther. Luthur is the team’s 6th man, and just returned from a prolonged absence due to an injured foot. He played 13 minutes against GT on Tuesday, which was his first action since January 11th. When he plays, he averages about 20 minutes per game. He can shoot (8/21 from 3) and scored 8 points (4/5 FG) against the Hoos in the last matchup. Jeter is also a capable shooter (39% on 67 attempts), but he’s more of an interior player. He’s the top rebounder on the team and the best defensive player. His defensive skills are somewhat wasted against the Hoos, because of the aforementioned lack of an interior offense. At 6’8” 230, Jeter isn’t capable of handling Devon Hall on the perimeter when the Hoos inevitably go small.

The guy who may be tasked with guarding Hall on the perimeter is Chris Jones. Jones is the one guy on Pitt who isn’t a real threat from outside (9/33 on the year), but he’s a slasher. He gets into the paint and can finish strong. He loves contact and gets to the line quite a bit, though he’s a poor FT shooter.

For some more detailed scouting reports, check out our preview for the first matchup back in January. Keep in mind that things have changed quite a bit for both teams since then.

Pitt can score. That isn’t in question. However, they aren’t the offensive team that UNC is, and we saw what the Hoos did to UNC’s offense. If the Hoos play defense like that, Pitt doesn’t stand a chance. Even if Pitt is able to get going offensively, the new-look Hoos with Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome getting big minutes are capable of putting up some big numbers on Pitt’s lackluster defense.

As I said, there figures to be quite a bit of emotion before the game. London has been a huge part of the program’s resurgence and he deserves to have his moment on Senior Night. Sometimes, that much emotion can make a team play flat to open the game. I can’t imagine that happening with London, especially in front of the Wahoo faithful. JPJ figures to be rocking, and London should be able to use that energy to lead the team to a win.