Visiting Pitt (6-3) looks to extend a five-game winning streak against Vanderbilt (4-4) when the teams meet on Wednesday night at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn.
The Panthers appear to be making progress in coach Jeff Capel III’s fifth year in Pittsburgh. Pitt ranks 79th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings as of Tuesday, which is higher than the Panthers have finished in Capel’s previous seasons there.
A win would tie Capel’s longest winning streak at Pitt since the Panthers won the first six to start his tenure at the school in 2018. Vandy scored a 68-52 road win over Pitt last Nov. 24.
Pitt stays on the road after impressive, back-to-back wins at Northwestern (87-58) and North Carolina State (68-60). Guard Jamarius Burton (15.8 points per game) had a career-high 24 points in the latter while adding four assists and two steals. Forward Blake Hinson (16.3 ppg) chipped in with 13 points and eight rebounds.
“What a tough effort to be able to go on the road for the first game in the (Atlantic Coast Conference) against an outstanding opponent, to defend the way that we did, and to play with the toughness and the togetherness that we had for 40 minutes,” Capel said after his team held N.C. State to a season-low in points on 35% shooting.
Pitt’s improved play has coincided with the return of center John Hugley IV (9.0 ppg), who led the Panthers in scoring (14.8) last year. Hugley suffered a knee injury on Oct. 2 and didn’t play in three of Pitt’s first four contests, two of which the Panthers lost.
Vanderbilt comes off a 65-62 home win over Wofford. Seven-foot forward Liam Robbins led the Commodores with 14 points and nine rebounds. After playing just 26 combined minutes in season-opening home losses to Memphis and Southern Miss, Robbins has averaged 24.2 minutes and 15.0 points a game.
Forward Myles Stute (12.6 ppg) leads the Commodores in scoring as well as 3-point field goals (26) and percentage (50.9%).
Guard Tyrin Lawrence (10.8 ppg), Vandy’s third-leading scorer, tallied 13 in the Wofford win and chipped in with two huge field goals in the game’s final minutes.
The Panthers (73.6% from the foul line) could have a significant edge over Vanderbilt (61.7%) if the game comes down to free throws).
The Commodores could also use some good health, especially for guard/forward Jordan Wright, Vandy’s leading returning scorer from last year.
Coming off a 22-point performance in a loss to St. Mary’s on Nov. 23, Wright hurt his back and scored just two points in the next evening’s win over Fresno State. He followed that with a scoreless 14-minute game in a loss at VCU and then didn’t play against Wofford.
Reserve guard Trey Thomas, who led the Commodores with 14 points in last year’s win at Pitt, scored eight points each time in the Wofford and Pitt games after missing the previous four with an MCL sprain.
Reserve guard Paul Lewis has missed the Commodores’ last five games due to a concussion.
Vanderbilt will honor its 1987-88 team on Wednesday. That squad upset Pitt to advance to the Sweet 16 of the 1988 NCAA tournament.
–Field Level Media