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The Big Basketball Preview: Pitt Redux

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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

Here was the preview from that game. It took a miraculous final 10 seconds from Jayden Gardner for Virginia to pull out a win, at home, against KenPom’s 201st ranked team. (Pitt is all the way up to 167th now.)

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

Although Gardner is still Virginia’s leading scorer on the season, he is behind Armaan Franklin in ACC play. In seven ACC games, Gardner has scored in double figures four times, including 23 in the Clemson rematch. Franklin has scored in double figures in every ACC contest, with a high of 18 in Saturday’s loss to Wake.

The difference for Gardner is that he’s just not hitting shots. On the season, Gardner is shooting 53% from the field. In ACC play, he’s down to 41%. Franklin’s numbers are roughly the same between non-conference games and ACC games. Gardner’s rebounding numbers in the ACC are also much lower (7.2 on the season, 5.1 in conference), whereas Franklin has been more active on the boards (2.9 on the season 4.1 in conference).

Franklin came to Virginia from Indiana in the Big Ten, whereas Gardner comes from ECU in the AAC. Game in and game out, the ACC or Big Ten is tougher than the AAC. Maybe Gardner is getting a first-hand lesson in that difference.

I have been saying that Virginia is not going to be successful in the ACC without Gardner having a big impact. The Hoos are 3-1 in ACC games where Gardner scores in double figures, and 1-2 when he does not. That one win was the Caffaro game against VT.

Put simply, Virginia needs an interior presence. Without that, they can’t compete. Virginia is 10-7 on the season. In the wins, Virginia’s trio of frontcourt players have averaged 28 points per game. In the losses, that drops to 18 per game.

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

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

In the previous game, the Wahoo frontcourt did their part, putting up 27 points and holding Pitt big man (and leading scorer) John Hugley to 12 points on 2/11 shooting. That Pitt nearly won that game despite Virginia’s interior dominance shows just how thin the margin is for this team. The Wahoos shot 4/21 (19%) from downtown, while Pitt shot 8/16 (50%). If the shooting is like that again, Virginia probably loses. But if Virginia manages to knock down a few threes, they could win with ease.

Virginia is favored by 3.5 per DraftKings. Tipoff is at 9pm on the ACC Network.