The great basketball example: Pitt Redux

After a somewhat demoralizing home loss to Wake Forest, Virginia Basketball is back on the road for a game against a poor Pitt team that nearly knocked out the Hoos at JPJ.

Here was the preview of that game. It took a prodigious last 10 seconds from Jayden Gardner for Virginia to win at home against KenPom’s 201st ranked team. (Pitt is now all the way in 167th.)

This was the culmination of those final 10 seconds, which also included a three-point play from Gardner and a five-second foul for Pitt, which gave Virginia the ball back for this final game.

While Gardner is still Virginia’s top scorer this season, he is behind Armaan Franklin in ACC play. In seven ACC games, Gardner scored four doubles, including 23 in the Clemson rematch. Franklin has scored double digits in every ACC game, peaking at 18 in Saturday’s loss to Wake.

The difference for Gardner is that he just doesn’t make any shots. During the season, Gardner shoots 53% of the field. In ACC game, it has dropped to 41%. Franklin’s numbers are about the same between non-conference games and ACC games. Gardner’s rebound numbers in the ACC are also much lower (7.2 in season, 5.1 in conference), while Franklin is more active in the boards (2.9 in season 4.1 in conference).

Franklin came to Virginia from Indiana in the Big Ten, while Gardner comes from ECU in the AAC. Game in and game out, the ACC or Big Ten is harder than the AAC. Perhaps Gardner will get a first-hand lesson in that difference.

I’ve said Virginia won’t be successful in the ACC without Gardner making a big impact. The Hoos are 3-1 in ACC games where Gardner scores in double figures, and 1-2 when he doesn’t. That one win was the Caffaro game against VT.

Simply put, Virginia needs an inner presence. Without it, they cannot compete. Virginia is 10-7 in the season. In the wins, Virginia’s trio of frontcourt players averaged 28 points per game. In the losses, that drops to 18 per game.

From the first Pitt game. This is beautiful. Beautiful passes from both Beekman and Gardner and a tough finish from the Argentine big man.

This also starts with a post feed to Gardner. That gets the attention of the defense and Milicic gets the open three.

In the previous game, the Wahoo frontcourt did their share, with 27 points and Pitt shooting big man (and top scorer) John Hugley on 12 points on 2/11. That Pitt nearly won that game despite Virginia’s domestic dominance shows how narrow the margin is for this team. The Wahoos fired 4/21 (19%) from the center, while Pitt fired 8/16 (50%). If the shooting is like that again, Virginia will probably lose. But if Virginia manages to knock down a pair of threes, they could easily win.

Virginia is favored with 3.5 per DraftKings. Tipoff is on the ACC network at 9 p.m.

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