Virginia faces ranked Pitt on the road
Game is first between the teams as ACC opponents
Following a 15-point win against Notre Dame, the Virginia men’s basketball team will travel Sunday afternoon to take on another unfamiliar conference foe, the No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers. The game pits two defense-oriented teams who are and neck-and-neck in the ACC standings. This is the first meeting between the schools since 1991.
Both teams have rocketed to a fast start in ACC play, far exceeding preseason expectations. This matchup gives Virginia (16-5, 7-1 ACC), the first team to seven conference wins, an opportunity to solidify its place near the top of the ACC. The Cavaliers are currently sitting in second behind Syracuse, with the Panthers in third.
“We just take it one game at a time,” freshman guard London Perrantes said. “When we played Tennessee [Dec. 30] and got smacked, we knew that we had to come back and play our game and play defense the way we know we do, and I feel like we’ve done that in the ACC.”
Pittsburgh (18-3, 6-2 ACC) is coming off of its worst defensive outing of the season, an 80-65 loss to Duke in which the Panthers allowed their most points of the season — nearly 20 more than their average.
“I need to get the message across defensively to handle our assignments,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said
Conversely, the Cavaliers played exceptional defense against Notre Dame Tuesday night, forcing 20 turnovers. Virginia has given up an average of just 53 points in its seven ACC wins.
“We always strive on our defense,” Perrantes said. “We practice defense in all of our practices every day so we know that when we come out our defense is going to get us wins.”
In addition to its defensive success, Virginia’s offensive production has been impressive this season. All of the squad’s ACC wins have come in by a margin of at least 12 points. Leading the offense is redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, who averages just more than 15 points per game in the conference.
“I think everybody is maximizing their potential right now and really playing to their fullest,” Brogdon said. “I think that’s why we’re clicking so well.”
Virginia will need to match up well against Pitt’s redshirt seniors, center Talib Zanna and guard Lamar Patterson. Patterson is shooting 50 percent from the field on the season.
Pitt’s secondary scoring, however, is suffering since the loss of redshirt sophomore forward Durand Johnson to a season-ending injury. Pitt’s bench scoring fell from 59 total points in its first three ACC games — with Johnson playing off the bench — to just 56 points in the last five matchups.
The Cavaliers will visit the Petersen Events Center for the first time, playing on a court where Pittsburgh losses are few and far between. The Panthers own a 192-23 all-time record at the Pete.
Virginia’s play away from home has been improving, however, including conference wins at Notre Dame, NC State and Florida State and a slim loss at Duke. The Cavaliers had only two ACC road wins all of last season.
“I think that speaks to our maturity and our focus that we’ve developed this season and not letting things crack our unity whether it’s outside circumstances or really anything else,” Brogdon said. “We just come out and try to play Virginia basketball every night.”