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Virginia Men's Basketball

Virginia vs Pittsburgh Preview and Storylines

Virginia Bench (Getty Images)

The 11th ranked Virginia Cavaliers will face another road test on Tuesday night when they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers.  Tipoff is scheduled for 9:00 PM Eastern, televised on ACC Network. 

About Pittsburgh

With a 10-4 overall record, this looks like Head Coach Jeff Capel’s best team at Pittsburgh.  The Panthers are probably the biggest surprise of the early conference season, off to a 3-0 start and winners of nine of their last 10 overall.   They’re fresh off a 76-74 home-win over North Carolina on Friday, and already have a pair of conference road wins against NC State and Syracuse.  

The Panthers are an older team.  There are four super seniors in the rotation.  Capel has done really well rebuilding his roster through the transfer portal.  Five of his top seven players began their careers elsewhere.  

Pittsburgh’s Personnel

Junior forward Blake Hinson (17.1 PPG) has been the top reason for Pittsburgh’s turnaround.  The 6-7 transfer from Iowa State is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.  He’s a scoring threat at every level.  It’ll be a tough assignment for Virginia’s Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas.

Big man John Hugley (8.0 PPG), Pitt’s leading scorer last season, has missed the last three games. His status for Tuesday is unknown.  In his place, they’ve turned to Federiko Federiko (5.9 PPG), a freshman from Finland.  He’s filled in nicely, averaging better than 12 points and eight boards over the last four games.  

All three starting guards are super seniors.  Jamarius Burton (15.8 PPG) has made a big leap in his extra season.  At 6-4, he uses his physicality well to get in the paint and score.  6-0 point guard Nelly Cummings (11.1 PPG) is a Colgate transfer.  He leads them with 4.9 assists, and does most of his scoring from behind the arc.  And 6-3 Marquette transfer Greg Elliott (10.8 PPG) is a shooting specialist, hitting just under 40% of his three-point attempts on high volume. 

Pitt doesn’t go very deep. Guard Nike Sibande (5.8 PPG), another super senior, is their sixth-man.  And freshman forward Jorge Diaz Graham (4.1 PPG) has earned a bigger role of late.  

Power Forward Clash

This game will feature an intriguing matchup between Virginia’s Jayden Gardner and Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson.  Both lead their teams in scoring and rebounding.  But they get it done in different ways.  Jayden is a traditional power forward, while Hinson is more of a big guard who plays in the four-spot.  

Hinson will test Gardner on the perimeter.  He takes and makes a lot of three-pointers, 35% on the season.  Defenders have to respect his shot, but what he does best is attack the basket.  He draws a lot of fouls too.  Jayden, and at times Ben Vander Plas, will need to be up for the challenge defensively.   The same applies on the other end though, where Gardner’s interior play and mid-range craft is a tough assignment for Hinson. 

Questionable Stars

Pittsburgh’s play of late is all the more impressive considering it was done without John Hugley.  The junior big man was their leading scorer last season at 14.8 PPG.  He’s missed the last three games due to personal reasons, and has been limited at times before that with a knee injury.  His status for Tuesday isn’t known.  He was on the bench in street clothes on Friday.  

Virginia guard Reece Beekman returned to action on Saturday after a one-game absence.  He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury for a few weeks now.  While he’ll presumably be in the lineup again, his recovery is an ongoing storyline for Virginia’s season.  His defense against Jamarius Burton will be valuable in this one.  

Separator Game

This is a game that Virginia probably needs to win if they’re going to compete for the regular season ACC title.  These are the kind of games that when you look back at the end of the season separate teams in the top third of the league from the team at the very top.  North Carolina just lost at Pitt.  That alone means Tuesday is an opportunity for an early leg-up on the Tar Heels. 

For Pitt, it’s a chance for a huge resume win.  They haven’t been to an NCAA Tournament under Jeff Capel.  Suddenly, that’s looking like a very real possibility this season.   And actually, this is a Quad-1 game for both teams, with Pitt now ranked 70th in the NCAA’s NET formula

(Featured Image Credit: Getty)

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