lair – Staff picks: Can Pitt make it seven in a row?

The Pitt Panthers are on fire right now after having won six games in a row, but they have their work cut out for them in order to make it a seven game winning streak. Pitt travels down to Blacksburg today for a key ACC showdown against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Panthers are currently in a tie for first place atop the ACC standings, but enter today’s game as an underdog according to the odds makers.

Virginia Tech comes into this one with a 15-11 record and a 5-10 mark inside the ACC. The Hokies are still a dangerous team despite their record. They boast four players averaging double figures in scoring led by a dynamic duo inside. Senior center Grant Basile leads the team with 16.5 points per game, while 6’7″ forward Justyn Mutts averages 13.4 and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per contest. The Hokies also have some dangerous outside shooters in Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla.

The offensive structure by Virginia Tech coach Mike Young certainly makes this team tough to beat, but taking them down in Blacksburg will also be a challenge. The Hokies are 11-3 at home this season, including a win over Virginia earlier this month.

Can Pitt keep pace atop the ACC title race? The staff predicts today’s game below.

Stephen Gertz (18-8): In my opinion, I have two more chances to catch and pass Chris in our standings. This game is one of those chances. On the one hand, the Pittsburgh Panthers are on a roll, winners of six in a row. On the other hand, it’s hard to win on the road in college basketball. The Virginia Tech Hokies are an enigma. They beat the Virginia Cavaliers at home earlier this month but have lost to the Boston College Eagles and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets since then. If Pitt can contain Basile and Mutts, two versatile forwards that would be a good start. The Panthers are rolling right now, but their defense is going to need to travel as well as their outside shooting. My guess is only one of those things will.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 72, Pitt 68

Houston Wilson (18-8): Virginia Tech has not had the season they were expecting to have after a great start to the season. Injuries have hurt the Hokies and they just haven’t been able to get over the hump. However, they are extremely tough to beat in Blacksburg as Cassell Coliseum as it is one of the best home court advantages in the ACC. Pitt is on an absolute tear and most likely has the ACC Coach Of The Year at the helm for the Panthers. I think size and athleticism will ultimately help Pitt prevail, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Pitt loses this one. Pitt seals the deal in overtime today and continues to sit atop the ACC standings. Pitt wins in overtime.
Prediction: Pitt 87, Virginia Tech 84

Matt Steinbrink (13-13): At first glance, Pitt being five point underdogs at Virginia Tech seems strange. After all, Pitt is currently sitting on top of the conference and the Hokies have underachieved this season. Virginia Tech has won three of the last four in this matchup and the arena in Blacksburg is a difficult sight for a lot of shooters. It is a unique arena that is dark all around the floor and can present a challenge. There is no question that Pitt is the better team, but the talent level is not all that far off. This game could be a trap game for the Panthers and Vegas certainly thinks so. After reaching six straight wins for the first time this season on Tuesday night, can they make it seven? They are due for a slip up but yet this team has been laser focused. Pitt is the better team, but it is just really hard to put together 7+ game winning streaks in conference play. Therefore, I’ll go with Virginia Tech in a close one that will set up a wild finish to the season for Pitt. If they win this one, look out. This is probably the second toughest game left on the schedule.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 76, Pitt 72

Jim Hammett (18-8): This is a game I had circled for a few weeks now for Pitt. I figured this would be a difficult game for Jeff Capel’s team, and after seeing the line, I guess I’m not alone in that assessment. Virginia Tech is a weird team to figure out because they have experience, talent, and the ability to make you pay from three-point range. Not to mention a very good coach in Mike Young calling the shots. They are the classic case of being better than what their record shows. On top of all that, the Hokies play really well at home. This whole game just has the makings of a very difficult conference road game for Jeff Capel’s squad. I think Pitt will battle and it will be a back and forth game, but I have a feeling Pitt is not going to win out here in the regular season and this game presents a lot of challenges.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 76, Pitt 70

Chris Peak (19-7): This game is a tough one to call. On one hand, Pitt has been the best team in the ACC in road games. The Panthers are 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the ACC on the road, with the only conference road loss coming at Duke and wins at NC State, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina and Florida State. GT and Louisville are obviously behind Virginia Tech in the ACC and Florida State isn’t ahead by much, but the NC State, Syracuse and UNC wins all look pretty good. Can Pitt keep it up today? It’s going to be a challenge. Justyn Mutts is a unique player, and he’s going to test Blake Hinson’s defense, which is an area where Hinson still has something to prove. The Hokies like to shoot threes – they’ve taken the fifth-most attempts in the ACC and they’ve made the sixth-most – and that will test Pitt’s defense. But the two biggest factors will always be rebounding and three-point defense. Virginia Tech doesn’t have great numbers on the glass (at the very least, the Hokies aren’t noticeably better than Pitt) and VT’s three-point defense in ACC play is in the bottom four of the conference, both in percentage allowed and the total number of three’s allowed. While I know I’m giving Steve and Jim a chance to get back into the race with this pick, I’m going with Pitt. The Panthers are 9-0-1 against the spread in road games this season; I think they cover the 5.5 and win outright.
Prediction: Pitt 71, Virginia Tech 66

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