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Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh: Keys to the Game and Prediction

Hunter Cattoor 1 VT Duke 2023 ES
Photo Credit: Erin Smith

After beating UVA by 34 points earlier this week, Virginia Tech heads on the road in search of picking up a Q1 at a Pittsburgh team that is looking to work their way into the top four of the ACC to earn a double bye at the ACC Tournament. With that said, here are my keys to the game and prediction for the Hokies against the Panthers.

1. Win The Frontcourt

Similar to the UVA matchup, this is another matchup where the Hokies have a clear advantage on paper in the frontcourt with Lynn Kidd and Mylyjael Poteat leading the way. Pittsburgh lacks a consistently dominant center while they also aren't great defensively on the interior as opponents are shooting 50.9% from inside the arc, which ranks outside the top 230 in the country though they do average 4.7 blocks per game.

This is where Tech's offense will need to be sharp. It can't just be Kidd and Poteat dominating off the block, but the Hokies need their offense to be running at full steam with all the backdoor cuts that could give Pitt issues. They also will need to be effective on their screens and be prepared to turn down decent threes for quality buckets at or around the rim with their bigs.

With that said, the Hokies will need Kidd and Poteat to continue to step up like they've done in many games recently including against UVA. Federiko Federiko and the Diaz Graham brothers are solid players, but Kidd and Poteat are the better center duo by far and need to dominate this battle on the scoring front.

Tech also needs their frontcourt to be sharp with their rebounding as Pittsburgh ranks in the top 80 nationally in total rebounds per game and offensive rebounds per game. Robbie Beran could play a big role in that as a more traditional four while Tyler Nickel, who has played well beyond just his shooting lately, needs to provide quality minutes in that regard, especially when he's working at the four to give Beran a breather.

2. Limit Turnovers

Virginia Tech has done a much-better job recently of limiting the turnovers on offense and not forcing things nearly as much, having only 13 turnovers in their past two games against top 10 North Carolina and Virginia. This included only seven turnovers against a renowned UVA defense, with Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor combining for no turnovers themselves.

Tech can't let their guard down though against a Pittsburgh team that is phenomenal at protecting the basketball averaging only 9.5 turnovers per game, which ranks in the top 20 in the country.

Sean Pedulla has done a better job of not trying to force things at times even if that means taking some less than ideal shots. That shows with Pedulla only having one turnover in his past two games after having 17 in the three prior games. In a game where turnovers are going to be minimal, Tech needs Pedulla continue to do what he's done the past couple games.

Collectively, Tech always look to turn a good shot into a great shot, but they also have to be smarter about when to take the good shot rather than force a high-risk pass or play to get a great shot, especially against a Pitt team that won't make many mistakes. If Tech can minimize the turnovers, they'll have a great chance of getting the road Q1 victory.

3. Find Your Three-Point Rhythm Well Enough

Virginia Tech hasn't exactly shot the ball well from recently, with the Hokies going 8-23 (34.8%) from three-point range against UVA after going 1-12 from three in the second half against UNC.

Unfortunately, the Hokies aren't exactly facing a get-right type opponent where the Hokies could have potential for a three-point shooting breakout, as opponents are making only 30.4% of their threes against the Panthers. The Hokies may not be able to shoot it at the highest level possible, but they have to at least be making 35-40% of their threes if they want a good chance of winning this one.

Tyler Nickel could be crucial to this success as the UNC transfer has been the one Hokie who has been consistent from three-point range lately. In his past five games, Nickel is 13-23 from three-point range shooting at least 40% from three in each of those five games. Nickel has done way more than just be a sharpshooter recently but with Tech struggling collectively from deep recently, they'll need him in top form.

Hunter Cattoor has had some struggled recently from three-point range going 1-6 at UNC before a bounce-back 2-4 from three-point range against UVA. While Cattoor has been a little up and down lately, he's absolutely someone who can find his form when the Hokies need him to, and will need just that in this game.

Tech doesn't have to shoot the lights out to win this game, but they need to shoot better from three in this one led by Cattoor and Nickel even with this matchup coming against a Pitt team that has defended the three well this season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 72, Pittsburgh 68

Pittsburgh will be extremely motivated coming off a blowout loss at Wake Forest to turn things around while the Hokies will have a little extra work to ensure they are focused and ready for the task at hand after their massive victory over UVA. Tech has also struggled on the road this year, and Pittsburgh is never an easy place to play at.

However, I think the Hokies can exploit the weakness that Pittsburgh has in their frontcourt. The Hokies have also needed other guys to step up as Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor have had shooting struggles recently, but it's hard to imagine those struggles continuing.

Blake Hinson could give Tech problems given his length on the wing while the Hokies will need their rebound efforts to be sharp in this game. In the end, styles make fights and given Tech's interior defensive inconsistency, I think a Mike Young offense that excels on back-door cuts could give Pittsburgh plenty of problems in addition to Tech having the better post play. Add in enough three-point shooting from a red hot Tyler Nickel along with Hunter Cattoor doing what Hunter Catoor does, and I'm taking the Hokies to pull off the upset.

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