Date: Wednesday, February 3
TV: RSN (Affiliate List)
No. 16 Virginia Tech (13-3, 7-2) looks to keep the momentum from Saturday’s huge rivalry win rolling when it travels to face the reeling Pittsburgh Panthers (8-5, 4-4) on Wednesday.
The Hokies erupted in the second half against No. 14 Virginia with a 19-0 run to seal a double-digit victory, their first over the Cavaliers since 2018. Tech is now 4-0 against ranked teams this season, including two wins over top-ten teams.
Tech’s 7-2 start in league play is the Hokies’ best since joining the ACC and puts Tech all alone in second in the conference, just half-a-game back of Virginia.
The early success has been spurred by big man Keve Aluma’s at-times dominant play. Aluma had his best game of his career against the Cavaliers with a 29-point, 10-rebound double-double. His performance was good enough to earn him not just ACC Player of the Week honors, but he was also named the Naismith National Player of the Week.
Aluma’s issue has been his struggles on the road over the past few weeks. In Tech’s four true road games this season, Aluma is only averaging eight points per contest. This is less than half of his 17 points per game in Cassell Coliseum. Now, the Hokies head on the road for two games this week and hope that Aluma can find a rhythm away from Blacksburg.
He’ll have a good opportunity against Pittsburgh, who has been struggling after a hot start to league-play. The Panthers started 4-1 in the ACC, but have lost three straight, punctuated by an embarrassing 26-point home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.
Despite their struggles, the Panthers are never a pushover thanks to star forward Justin Champagnie. The six-foot-six sophomore is a true contender for ACC Player of the Year, averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Aluma and Justyn Mutts will have their work cut out for them in the frontcourt trying to contain Champagnie and junior Au’Diese Toney. Toney is second on the team in both scoring and rebounds.
The Panthers’ strength is on the offensive glass, where the Hokies had major struggles a few weeks ago. Pitt is grabbing offensive boards on 35% of possessions, good enough for 26th in the country.
Pitt’s talented frontcourt is complemented by the elite passing ability of point guard Xavier Johnson. The Virginia-native leads the ACC with 6.1 assists per game and is still third on the team with over 13 points per game. The Panthers have no shortage of talent under Head Coach Jeff Capel, but haven’t been able to put it together over the last two weeks.
Tech hasn’t had much issue with Pitt lately as the Hokies haven’t lost to the Panthers in over five years. The last of five straight victories came last year in Blacksburg as Tech broke a five-game losing streak with a 67-57 win over the Panthers. Jalen Cone had a big game with 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from long range.
Cone finally broke out of a small shooting slump against the Cavaliers on Saturday with two makes from downtown. The sophomore was just 2-of-17 on threes over the previous three games. Tech hopes he can continue to find a rhythm again against Pitt.
Head Coach Mike Young will also hope to continue to get contributions off of the bench from Hunter Cattoor, who has had double-digit points in four of his last six games. Cattoor was second on the team in scoring against UVA with 15 points, including a few huge triples during the Hokies’ massive run.
After facing the Panthers, Tech heads on the road once again to face Miami on Saturday. Tech beat the Hurricanes in a close 80-78 matchup back in late December. After that, the Hokies will have a week off before welcoming Louisville to Blacksburg thanks to COVID-19 issues within Florida State’s program.