With the Virginia Cavaliers collapsing in the second half despite at one point owning a 12-point lead, the team fell to 10-3 on the season and 2-2 in the ACC. Following a head scratching defeat, we’ve got five takeaways.
Bad defense and sloppy play dooms the Wahoos
It felt for the longest time like there was an inevitability to this game that UVA would pull out the victory. The slightly back and forth first half that ended with a quick run from Virginia to take a ten-point lead into the break fit how recent UVA wins have gone. Even the start of the second half played into the presumptive trend that was leaning towards an eventual comfortable Wahoo victory.
Well, suffice to say, that didn’t happen. After allowing just 23 points and .767 points per possession to the Panthers in the first half, the UVA defense allowed 45 and 1.5 PPP (!!!) in the second. That’s really bad! Like, bad! Not just for Virginia’s stiff defensive standards. The breakdowns on defense came thick and fast as Pitt beat UVA on the perimeter and carved the ‘Hoos up on the interior as well. UVA’s bigs were bad defensively all night long while the team’s seven steals all came in the first half as the Panthers didn’t turn the ball over a single time in the second period. Again, bad!
Additionally, Virginia’s 11 turnovers certainly didn’t help things. With so many of those being live-ball giveaways, Pittsburgh scored 21 of its 68 points (30.9%) off of UVA turnovers. Kihei Clark’s five and Kadin Shedrick’s three were particularly hard to watch as two players accounted for far too many mistakes. Such sloppy play all around and a defense that looked like a shell of its best self from earlier this season provided the perfect opportunity for a quality Pitt team to capitalize, make a big run, and pull out the win.
Lineup decisions are hurting this team
Not putting Ryan Dunn on the floor until 24 minutes of game time had gone by versus Miami turned out to be a poor decision as Dunn was +13 in his 16 minutes and was great defensively as a small ball four to match Miami’s lineup. In fact, it had become obvious early in the game that throwing Dunn into the fire and trying to match Miami would be a way to slow them down offensively. Not putting him in sooner was absolutely a contributing factor in Virginia losing that game.
Tonight, the player who quite clearly would have solved some of the team’s big problems defensively was Kadin Shedrick. With Francisco Caffaro sitting out of the game with a boot on his foot, Shedrick was UVA’s only pure center and his absence particularly in the second half was an issue.
While he was by no means perfect in this game as he made costly errors offensively (the controversial moving screen with 1:12 remaining which negated an Isaac McKneely three was the most notable) Shedrick provided much needed size and rim protection on the interior. Vander Plas was not good guarding ball screens against Pitt while his box-outs were similarly sloppy. In execution, Shedrick wasn’t far and away better, but his sheer size and natural abilities mean that leaving Vander Plas as the small ball five for UVA from the 10:10 mark in the second half until 3:10 remaining seemed unwise considering the matchup. In fact, despite turning the ball over three times and having a few defensive breakdowns of his own, Shedrick was still a team-high +5 on the night in his 27 minutes.
On a broader scale, it’s weird to identify issues like this with the rotation/lineups. Tony Bennett is typically really good at lineup construction, but it feels like he still hasn’t quite figured this team out. I trust he will and I don’t for a second believe I know better than him. But not playing Dunn earlier against Miami and leaving Vander Plas at the five in the second half last night are questionable decisions. It also seemed like Armaan Franklin deserved more time in this game, but that’s a relatively smaller nit to pick. Moving forward, hopefully the Wahoo staff can identify some of the matchup issues on the floor earlier or perhaps simply find better solutions to what opponents are throwing at them.
Virginia needs more production from the front-court
Looking beyond Shedrick’s 10 points which were (per usual) a result of guards making plays and the 6’11” big man being very effective as a finisher, there was near-to-no offensive production from UVA’s front-court versus Pittsburgh. Jayden Gardner’s four points on 2-7 shooting and Ben Vander Plas’ two points on 1-4 shooting were evidence of how invisible each of those two were on offense for Virginia.
What looked like a position of strength in the early-going, the production from these two against serious competition is a legitimate concern. Neither is all that physically gifted and — while they’re both very skilled and good at what they’re best at — the lack of consistency in what they provide the offense often stymies the Wahoo offense if shots don’t fall at a ridiculous clip and the guards can’t do everything themselves.
Frankly, I’m not exactly sure what the answer is. Perhaps more focused, schemed up looks or plays for each of them could be beneficial for the offense rather than trying to mold their unique offensive skill-sets into the offense. Maybe a restructuring of expectations for the shots they should take should be emphasized. For instance, that Vander Plas should take fewer contested threes and instead look to move the ball or that Gardner shouldn’t settle from the midrange and instead attack the basket to draw contact.
While the officiating was definitely suspect in this game, UVA shooting just four free throws compared to Pitt’s 17 was partially a result of BVP and Gardner not providing on that front. While they each had a pair of steals and an offensive rebound, more needs to be expected from them for UVA to avoid results like this. And they’re capable of it! That’s why the expectation is reasonable and last night’s performance deserves criticism.
Reece Beekman is getting healthy
If there is one positive takeaway from this loss, it’s that Reece Beekman looks to be getting close to full health. His stat-line might not have been incredible, but the signs are good for Beekman on his path to full recovery. His three catch and shoot triples were smooth while his burst getting to the basket looked the most explosive it’s been since the first half versus Michigan.
Finishing with 12 points on 4-9 shooting (3-5 from three), six rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover, the next step for Beekman will likely be to take back more responsibility in the offense as he transitions back to a higher usage role alongside Kihei Clark. His team-high 36 minutes were indicative of a healthy hamstring and ankle. Now it’s about getting back into the groove of things and re-establishing the dominant play we saw from him on either end of the floor earlier this season. Starting to rely on that again is the first in a list of things that Virginia needs to do as the ‘Hoos look themselves in the mirror after this loss.
UVA is, once again, a volatile team
Last season the story of Tony Bennett’s squad was one of inconsistency. Through the first 12 games of this season it seemed like that was less so the case. A few solid wins early in the year, followed by close losses to good teams with Beekman limited, and then a pair of confidence-inducing wins against poor teams depicted this group as one likely set for another impressive run through the ACC with an eye on the Regular Season Title and a top three or four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After this loss, I’m not going to say that this group isn’t good enough to do that. The ‘Hoos very much are still a very good team at their best. Yet, here we are, back where we were last March, wondering what the game-to-game version of UVA will be. Maybe this defeat to a gutsy, hot Pitt team on the road will turn out to be more fluky tough loss than indictment of irregularity. But, the problems which Pitt capitalized on have been brewing for this squad for a little while now and the utter collapse in the second half is notably concerning especially with how much experience and veteran presence Virginia has.
With all that in mind, it’s hard to appropriately and correctly evaluate this team. I won’t say that Tony Bennett won’t lead them on an eleven game win streak, run away with the ACC Title, and clinch a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. But I’m also not so sure that this team won’t go 13-7 or 12-8 (again) in the conference, miss out on the ACC Tournament double bye, and enter March as a lower seed. That was the nature of UVA’s roster last season and, unfortunately, it seems like that is the case this year as well. Unfortunately, only time will tell which version of Virginia wins out.