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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh

The Hokies don’t get much of a rest as they travel to Pittsburgh, a place they have not had much success in.

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

Let’s relive this one more time, because it will go down in the books as a wild and thrilling finish to one of the all-time classics in the series’ history.

Virginia Tech will not get a lot of time to remember the win over Virginia, because they have a quick turnaround and face off against Pittsburgh tonight to kick off a two game road trip. Similar to the football team this past season, the Hokies basketball team will seek to break their losing streak in Pittsburgh, as they have not won there since 1966.

Pittsburgh has struggled during conference play, nabbing wins over just three conference opponents. However, two of those wins have been against Syracuse and Virginia, two opponents in the top half of the conference. The Panthers actually enter the game on a two game win streak. Even though their tournament hopes are a distant possibility at this point, the Panthers will be playing for the names on the backs of their jerseys.

Devastating news was announced last night, as the Hokies learned that Chris Clarke, their outstanding forward, would miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. The Hokies will be down to seven players in the rotation, and after a game which the players exerted every ounce of energy they had in the tank, it would not be surprising if the fatigue factor becomes apparent earlier than Buzz would like. The good news is that the Panthers’ bench is not as deep as Virginia’s.

The Hokies are going to need as many bodies as possible to defend the Panthers’ two primary scoring threats, Jamel Artis and Michael Young. The senior duo is averaging over 40 points per game combined, making them the most lethal scoring combination in the league.

Jamel Artis continues to be the knockdown shooter he has been throughout his career in Pittsburgh. The 6-7 wing shoots the ball at a 39.7% clip from downtown, and at his height, it is very difficult to contest his shot. However, he is equally adept at taking the ball inside, making 56.7% of his two-point attempts and has a .414 Free Throw Rate. He has the ability to knock down midrange jump shots if he finds a hole in the zone. Artis is also Pittsburgh’s best playmaker, posting a 23% Assist Percentage for the Panthers.

With the loss of Clarke, the Hokies’ may have a tougher time dealing with Michael Young in the frontcourt. Young is excellent in the post and in the paint, and is a threat on the glass, second on the team with 7.2 boards from game. Young has been integral part of games in which the Panthers play well. In wins, Young averages 23.2 points but in losses he only scores about 17.8. The Hokies need to ensure they rebound as a team to avoid giving up second chance opportunities, where Young will seek to make them pay.

Pittsburgh’s third leading scorer, Cameron Johnson, has stepped up during his sophomore year. He has a good frame at 6-7, but weighs just 185 pounds (for comparison, Seth Allen weighs around 195). Johnson might be an even better shooter than Artis, as he shoots a very efficient 42.3% from the perimeter. He is less prone to driving the ball, however. Johnson only averages about 3 two-point attempts as opposed to around 6 three-point attempts.

Besides the big three listed above, Pittsburgh does not have many more players who are adept at creating their own shot. Sheldon Jeter may be an underrated difference maker in this game. Jeter torched the Hokies in last year’s meeting between the two sides, scoring 23 points on 9-13 shooting. He was able to get whatever he wanted in the paint as Young’s sidekick. Jeter is averaging 7.5/7.4 this season.

Chris Jones rounds out the starting five for Pittsburgh. He’s another senior with plenty of experience, averaging 7.4/2.8/2.4, doing it all for the Panthers. And at 6-6, he’s another lengthy wing that the Panthers can deploy. Freshman Justice Kithcart has been the only other player to get 10+ minutes a game during conference play. He is still growing, and contributes very little on the offensive end. He is more of a complimentary player than anything.

As a team, the Panthers average 76.7 PPG and boast the 68th best Offensive Efficiency on the country. They are shooting the ball 37.1% from three. Those aren’t terrible numbers. But Pittsburgh’s struggles have been on the defensive end this season. They are giving up 76.9 PPG and their Defensive Efficiency is a putrid 331st in the NCAA. During conference play, the Panthers have allowed teams to shoot an extremely high 41.2% from three-point range. They have also failed to stop dribble penetration, as teams are shooting 53.8% from inside the arc. That bodes well for the Hokies, who will rely on getting downhill to the basket and will look to get to the free throw line as much as possible as they did on Sunday night.

Given the Panthers’ struggles defending the perimeter, this would be a perfect time for Ahmed Hill to get going again. He has only made three triples in the last eight games, and he missed multiple open looks from deep against Virginia. Sometimes all a shooter needs is just one to fall to get them going.

Zach LeDay may have fouled out of the Virginia game, but that could work in the Hokies’ favor considering he got some extra rest. He had an excellent second half scoring the basketball and on the boards. He should have some success down low if Robinson and Allen are able to consistently attack the paint, which should allow him to get open underneath for pocket passes.

Prediction:

History tells me to pick against the Hokies in this one, and Clarke’s injury compounds the argument to go with the Panthers. However, Pittsburgh’s defensive struggles cannot be ignored. The Hokies had to expend a lot of energy against Virginia every possession to score, and they finally got into a rhythm in the second half. I think that carries over into tonight. But the fatigue factor makes things dicey for Virginia Tech, which is why I’m not too confident in this prediction.

Hokies 78-72.