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Pitt offense needs to break string of bad performances against Virginia to pull off upset win

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough last-second loss to No. 24 Notre Dame last week, Pitt's basketball team has another stiff challenge in front of them in No. 11 Virginia on Wednesday.

The good news is the Panthers get the game against the Cavaliers at home. The bad news is that Virginia has owned Pitt since the Panthers joined the league.

Pitt is 0-4 against Virginia since that time. Worse still is that the Panthers have barely scored against Virginia. That's not exactly a complete rarity as the Cavaliers play insanely tough defense and often holds opponents to low totals. But Pitt's offense has been downright putrid against Virginia.

In those four contests against the Cavs, the Panthers have never topped even 50 points. In the 2014, Pitt was held to 45 and then 48 points. In 2015, the scored only 49 in the lone game. Last year, the Panthers reached 50, but were still beaten badly in a 14-point loss.

One of the main reasons for optimism this year as the Panthers have to deal with Virginia twice is that they have some real firepower in Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Averaging a shade under 45 points per game combined, they are the No. 1 and No. 3 scorers in the ACC, respectively.

That, of course, is no reason to think that Pitt is guaranteed for a big offensive game. Last year, Young was held to 12 points on only 4-11 shooting from the field. Artis fared better with 17 points, but the Panthers still had only 50 points last season in the Virginia game.

And while the big two of Young and Artis does the bulk of the scoring, Pitt could really use a big game from third wheel Cameron Johnson, who has had some strong offensive nights himself this year. The Panthers don't necessarily need a 20-point game or anything from Johnson but a solid 12-15 points will go a long way towards breaking the Panthers' offensive slump.

The offense needs to do more because Pitt's defense just isn't what it used to be. The Panthers could rely on having their defense carry them to wins in the past but can do so far less often these days. The Panthers have already allowed three teams this season to score at least 80 points against them and that included the near-disaster against Marshall where the Thundering Herd got to 106. And in eight of the team's 14 games, opponents have gotten to 75 or more.

The Panthers aren't always terrible defensively and have turned in a few decent performances, such as holding Maryland to 59 points on the road. But the team's defense simply hasn't been good enough to think they are going to shut Virginia down entirely. And that's even with Virginia not having a single double-digit scorer.

I feel better about Pitt's chances to score more points this year - partially because they almost have to by default and partially because of how good Young and Artis have been. Virginia is still an incredible team but you have to like what the Panthers bring offensively. Does that mean they can keep the Cavaliers' balanced attack down (they have ten guys averaging 15 minutes a game) with limited depth? I'm not sure. But, offensively, there is at least a little more hope than in seasons past. Since joining the ACC, Pitt has never had the kind of firepower offensively as they do this year and that should bode well for at least scoring more points against Virginia.

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