As we continue our game-by-game breakdown of Tech’s opponents for the upcoming basketball season, the time has come to take a look at two of the stronger opponents in the ACC: UVA and Pittsburgh.
Countdown to Tipoff: 18 Days
2016-2017 Record: 16-17 (4-14 ACC)
Head Coach: Kevin Stallings (2nd year)
Key Departures: Jamel Artis (G), Michael Young (F), Sheldon Jeter (F), Chris Jones (G/F), Cameron Johnson (G)
Key Returnees: Ryan Luther (F)
Top Recruits: Marcus Carr (G), Jared Wilson-Frame (F) [JUCO], Peace Ilegomah (C)
The Panthers were a mixed bag against Tech last season, dropping the only regular season matchup between the two teams by nine in Atlanta before eventually knocking off the Jackets in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The good news for Tech is that last year’s Pitt roster struggled tremendously to win conference games, and this year’s roster will be significantly worst. In fact, the Panthers have arguably the worst roster in the entire conference after losing their top five scorers to a combination of transfers and graduation; there was so much roster turnover in the Steel City that the program took an absurd seven commitments for the class of 2017. The leading returning scorer is Ryan Luther, who averaged just 5.7 points per game.
The Jackets and Panthers will match up just once, at least in the regular season, when Tech heads up to Pittsburgh in mid-January. College basketball is obviously difficult to predict (see: last season), but the odds are good that Tech is going to be the much better team. Second-year Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, formerly of Vanderbilt, will face one of the greatest challenges of his long coaching career when he tries to piece together a functional rotation of former role players and true freshmen, the remnants of the Jamie Dixon era.
In fact, this upcoming Pitt team in particular is just short of impossible to project. Stallings will be working with a total of 11 new faces in the toughest basketball conference on earth, hardly the makings of a successful season. Junior college transfer Jared Wilson-Frame, a top-10 JUCO player in the class, is expected to be baptized by fire, and big man Peace Ilegomah will be tough to handle if he ends up with significant minutes. Other than that, get ready for the Ryan Luther special! He scored a whopping one point against Tech last season, but be ready to see more from him this time around.
2016-2017 Record: 23-11 (11-7 ACC) w/ loss to Florida in NCAA Tournament third round
Head Coach: Tony Bennett (9th season)
Key Departures: London Perrantes (G), Marial Shayok (G)
Key Returnees: Devon Hall (G), Kyle Guy (G), Isaiah Wilkins (F), Jack Salt (C)
Top Recruits: Marco Anthony (G), Francesco Badocchi (F)
Much like Pitt, Virginia will start the 2017 season without its two top scorers from a season ago following the graduation of London Perrantes — a historically good player for the Hoos — and the transfer of Marial Shayok to Iowa State. The difference, however, is that UVA employs arguably the best coach in all of college basketball in Tony Bennett. He has built a national power in Charlottesville, compiling a 188-83 overall record that only gets more impressive when you consider that he went a combined 31-31 over his first two seasons while playing with his predecessor's players. The simple fact is that teams that play fundamentally-sound, defensively-minded basketball like UVA under Bennett are some of the most consistent in all of college basketball. That likely won’t change this time around, as Bennett’s former top-10 recruiting class from two years back continues to mature.
Yes, it's true — UVA basketball committed mass atrocities against Brian Gregory-coached Georgia Tech teams. Tech defeated the Hoos in Gregory’s last season, but the prior two games saw the Jackets put up 28 and 45 points in total. Not even Josh Pastner could get his offense humming against the then-No. 16 Cavaliers, dropping just 49 against the eventual NCAA Tournament participant. Year two of Pastner’s era should bring with it an even more fluid offense, but there’s not much to do when UVA’s defense comes out on fire.
Bennett’s most recent recruiting class barely cracked the top-100 nationally, but the amount of talent remaining from previous cycles figures to more than make up for it. His team isn’t garnering any top-25 love as the season approaches and likely won’t challenge the likes of Duke and other top teams, but Bennett is nothing if not consistent as a coach. This one qualifies as winnable for the Jackets, particularly at home, but don’t expect too much against a tough, quality opponent.