Friday, March 14, 2014

game preview: Pitt

Date/Time: Saturday, March 15; 1:00


Record against the Panthers: 8-3

Last meeting: UVA 48, Pitt 45; 2/2/14, Pittsburgh

Last game: UVA 64, FSU 51 (3/14); Pitt 80, UNC 75 (3/14)


UVA: 61.2 (#345)
Pitt: 64.2 (#283)

UVA: 114.4 (#23)
Pitt: 115.9 (#15)

UVA: 90.1 (#4)
FSU: 97.1 (#46)

UVA: .9397 (#4)
FSU: .8852 (#16)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: James Robinson (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg)

SG: Cameron Wright (10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Lamar Patterson (17.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.4 apg)
PF: Michael Young (6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PF: Talib Zanna (12.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 0.5 apg)

Whee!  Getting rid of long streaks of futility is fun.  Problem with success, though, is it leaves you wanting even more.  In the spirit of "haven't done X since Y", it's been even longer since UVA has played in the ACC championship game.  One year longer, actually; the last championship game appearance was 1994.

Standing in the way is Pittsburgh, last seen in February.  Despite the underachieving label, they remain a dangerous team, as UNC found out by letting the Panthers get out to a stupid-huge lead that the Heels tried but failed to overcome.  After the last meeting, Pitt fans claimed their team hadn't brought its "A game" and UVA fans scoffed at the perceived lack of credit being given to our own team.  The benefit of six weeks of hindsight shows there was probably an element of truth to both sides of that.  UVA turned out to be a damn good team after all, and Pitt can play better than they did.

-- UVA on offense

Joey Hoops didn't start getting called that because he's the white Kobe Bryant or anything.  He got that nickname because he's a step-up player.  It's a nickname that perfectly fits a guy who does big-time things in big-time games, like shrugging off a mini shooting slump to score 20 points in the ACC tourney.

UVA won that FSU game despite poop-level shooting from Malcolm Brogdon, which should make the Panthers pretty nervous.  And 64 points is a pretty nice total for a 56-possession game.  The other player that helped out the most in the scoring department: Anthony Gill.  Good news going into the Pitt game, because if Pitt can be said to have an Achilles heel on defense, it's their size down low.  Gill scored just one point in the last Pitt matchup, but the hot hand down low was Akil Mitchell, shooting 5-for-7 and grabbing nine boards.

Someone, then, is likely to have a good game down low.  Pitt has four players who can conceivably be called power forwards, but Derrick Randall is very, very sparingly used and Jamel Artis is undersized for the position at 6'7".  UVA should be able to find a mismatch somewhere in the frontcourt, and whoever is the beneficiary - Gill or Mitchell, maybe Tobey - will have a big day.

This is not to say they'll be a pushover all over the place.  Pitt will make you work on offense, and you have to be extra careful with the ball because their backcourt can be disruptive, particularly Cameron Wright.  They're tough to win the rebound battle against; Talib Zanna can be a real force on the glass.

Finally, of course, you hope that playing their third game in as many days will wear on the Panthers.  We like to talk about our depth and rotating more players in and out, but the fact is, the rotation has tightened some of late, and Tony Bennett is leaning more on his starters than he used to.  And even so, it's less so than Pitt does.  Three players play over 30 minutes and one more (Zanna) is close enough that he might as well.  Will the second half bring a bonanza as relatively fresh legs go against tired ones?  It might.

-- UVA on defense

What do you do with Lamar Patterson?  He's the nation's 8th-best player according to KenPom.  He shoots a ton and makes quite a few; he's got 40% range from three and he's a really good passer, too.

The answer is simple: exactly what UVA did last time.  He's a very good shooter with his feet set and he can get to the rim, but he's actually pretty awful in the mid-range.  UVA turned him into a pull-up jump shooter in the game in Pittsburgh and it was pretty much brilliant.  Patterson made one early shot and then bricked every two-point attempt the rest of the way.  Overplay just a touch and be ready to help once he takes that first step inside the arc.  You want him pulling up, and if you can get him to do so, he's mortal.

Patterson has launched 186 three-point shots this year, but there aren't many Panthers who won't try it out given the chance.  There aren't many who're real adept at it, either; Pitt shoots a respectable .361 from deep, but that's skewed by Patterson's .403.  Point guard James Robinson is fine, and backup shooting guard Josh Newkirk is much better than fine (shooting .457, which oddly is also his free-throw percentage.)  Cameron Wright, however, is lousy from deep, and his efficiency skyrockets inside the arc.  As well, most of Pitt's power forwards will give the deep ball a try at times, too; this behavior should be encouraged.

Down low, it takes a concerted effort to stop Talib Zanna, whose strength and athleticism is a major asset for Pitt.  The fact that he took just three shots was a big factor in the last game, and if UVA continues to be that effective at ball denial it'll be a real advantage.  The other starting forward, Michael Young, is much less fearsome, and simply physically not the player Zanna is.  His O-rating is rescued largely by outstanding free-throw shooting, so he's not the player you want to hack.  (Protip: Hack Zanna instead, or better yet, Newkirk or Derrick Randall.)

Plenty of weapons on this team, but UVA produced the blueprint to stopping them back in February.  Turning Patterson into a pull-up shooter is paramount.  Pitt won't help you out the way Florida State does, and sophomore PG Robinson is one of the players that broke the A/T ratio record in the conference this year.  But UVA's scheme matches up fairly well with the Panthers, and let's not fail to mention the potential fatigue factor either.

-- Outlook

Pitt had a pretty crappy finish to the regular season.  Home losses to Florida State and NC State; OT wins over Notre Dame and Clemson, and they let Boston College get pretty close as well.  They might've rediscovered a little mojo in the tournament, though.  Two straight 80-point games, starting with a thorough demolition of Wake Forest.  Fair to say this'll be a challenge.

UVA was the deeper team in February, though, and that sure didn't change.  And UVA earned the extra bye and ought to be able to make use of it.  I say, it's time to go play for a championship.

Final score: UVA 60, Pitt 54

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