Louisville Cardinals (13-3, 4-1) At Pittsburgh Panthers (11-5, 2-3)
Game Time: 7:01 p.m.
Location: Petersen Events Center: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Television: ACC Network
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (play-by-play), Cory Alexander (analyst), and Katie George (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 6
Officials: Mike Stephens, Mike Roberts, Kipp Kissinger
Series: Louisville leads 18-6
Last Meeting: Louisville won 64-46 on Dec. 6, 2019 in Louisville
Probable Starting Lineups:
2017-18 Pitt Panther basketball pic.twitter.com/MnatxOTJGE— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) February 11, 2018
Like every team in the ACC save the top three, Pitt remains a bit of an enigma. The Panthers have conference wins over Florida State and on the road against North Carolina, but have also lost at home to lowly Wake Forest and were most recently handled with ease by Miami. They enter Tuesday night’s game at No. 74 in the NET Rankings and at No. 75 on Ken Pom.
As was the case the last time we talked about Pitt, Jeff Capel’s team is largely driven by the backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
Johnson was a monster for Capel in his freshman season, breaking the school’s 34-year-old freshman scoring record and establishing himself as the only player in Division I to average at least 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. He achieved those offensive numbers despite often being asked to defend the opposition’s best player on the other end of the floor.
Johnson’s scoring average (11.8 ppg) is down by nearly a full 4 ppg this season, which is more the product of him being surrounded by more help than he was a year ago than it is anything else. He is currently one of just four players in the ACC (joined by Tre Jones of Duke, Markell Johnson of NC State and Kihei Clark of Virginia) averaging at least 10.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Turnovers are an issue for Johnson though. After averaging a far too high 4.0 turnovers per game as a freshman, Johnson is almost right at the mark (3.9 tpg) near the midway point of this season.
The Panther guard that Louisville fans may remember more is McGowens, who set a Pitt freshman scoring record when he dropped 33 points on the Cards in an 89-86 upset win at the Petersen Events Center last January. That performance represented the highest point of a bipolar freshman year for McGowens. He scored 24 points or more four times, but was also held to single-digits in scoring in 10 of Pitt’s final 14 games.
McGowens has been more consistent as a sophomore, and currently leads Pitt in scoring at 13.2 ppg. He has scored in double figures in each of the past six games and is averaging a team-best 16.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game during that span. McGowens also leads the Panthers in steals (31) and is second in assists (52).
The issue for Louisville when it comes to defending this backcourt is the same as it was last month. Johnson and McGowens are big (6’3 and 6’4). Darius Perry, Ryan McMahon and Fresh Kimble are not big. It shouldn’t shock anyone to see this be another game where David Johnson receives an extended amount of run.
The difference with Pitt this year is that there are two other guards that Louisville needs to be concerned with.
Junior Ryan Murphy, who began his college career at Charlotte before transferring to New Mexico Junior College, is an outside specialist who shores up a three-point shooting attack that was hit or miss for the Panthers a year ago. He’s knocked four or more threes on four different occasions this season, and is shooting a team-best 89.3 percent from the free-throw line.
The other Pitt guard who has to be talked about is freshman Justin Champagnie. The 6’6 native of Brooklyn is among the ACC’s leaders in freshmen scoring at 11.4 points per game. He is a feast or famine shooter from beyond the arc who isn’t afraid to let it fly regardless of which extreme end of that spectrum he falls on during a particular night.
Pitt plays at one of the slowest paces in the country (337th), so this could be yet another road game where Louisville can win without getting out of the 60s. They hold opposing offenses to respectably low shooting percentages, but have been a bad defensive rebounding team for most of the year. Expect this to be another game where Dwayne Sutton’s endless motor is rewarded with a double-digit rebounding effort and hopefully a double-digit scoring night.
—Louisville has won 14 of its last 15 games against Pitt. The Cards’ 89-86 overtime loss last January snapped a 12-game winning streak against the Panthers.
—Louisville has started with at least a 13-3 record through 16 games for the seventh time in the last 10 years.
—Steven Enoch has won the opening tip in 15 of Louisville’s 16 games this season.
—Louisville is 13-0 when leading at halftime this season, and 0-3 when trailing at the break.
—Pitt has won its past two meetings and is 6-19 all-time against the No. 11 team in the AP Poll. Five of the Panthers six wins against the 11th-ranked team in the poll have come in Pittsburgh.
—Louisville has blocked at least one shot in 318 consecutive games.
—Louisville has a 38-13 record during the month of January over the last five years.
—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.
—Pitt has held held eight opponents to 60 points or fewer this season. The Panthers are 8-0 on the year and 15-0 under Jeff Capel when holding the opposition to 60 points or fewer scored.
—Pitt ranks second in the ACC (29th in NCAA) in scoring defense at 61.0 points per game.
—Louisville has won 152 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 64, Pittsburgh 60