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UVA coach Tony Bennett still trying to figure things out

uva coach tony bennett‘Hoo woulda thunk it, that the weak point for #11 UVA Wednesday night at Pitt would be on the defensive end?

The Panthers came in a modest ninth in the ACC and 33rd nationally in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. That said, coach Kevin Stallings has at his disposal two of the better offensive players in the ACC, Michael Young and Jamel Artis, and Pitt plays big – Young is 6’9, Artis 6’7, and the other regulars are Cameron Johnson (6’8”), Sheldon Jeter (6’8”), Chris Jones (6’6”) and Ryan Luther (6’9”).

UVA coach Tony Bennett countered for long stretches, curiously, with a four-guard lineup. Combing through the box score, Virginia’s bigs got a combined 67 of the possible 90 minutes that you would expect to go to the four and five positions, meaning you had roughly 23 (of a possible 45, with the OT) minutes of four-guard.

Which worked on offense. UVA shot 49.3 percent from the field (33-of-67) and was 8-of-20 (40 percent) from three-point range, and actually outscored Pitt 38-24 in the paint.

But the Panthers killed – absolutely killed – Virginia on the boards, with a 42-24 advantage, with a concurrent 21-8 edge in second-chance points, on the strength of a 12-6 margin in offensive rebounds.

So Pitt dominated the boards, and also went bonkers from three – hitting 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) from long-range.

Not bad for a 37.3 percent three-point shooting team coming in.

Granted, going back play by play, it wasn’t like Pitt hit a bunch of open threes. The makes were more reminiscent of Dwayne Bacon draining contested shot after contested shot on Saturday in Florida State’s 60-58 last-second win in Charlottesville.

Sometimes you go through those stretches where teams make shot after shot. In a long season, those kinds of things tend to even out.

Remember last year, when Virginia started 2-3 in ACC play, and Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and FSU lit up the Pack-Line in the Ls.

This one felt like those. Artis was 6-of-7 from three-point range and 6-of-12 from the free-throw line. One of those things is not like the other, right?

Jeter was 3-of-5 from three-point range, raining down two to start the overtime period in what turned into an 88-76 Pitt win that had the Panthers scoring 18 points in the OT.

Kid had made nine three-pointers on the season coming in, at a 32.1 percent clip.

You don’t want to just say, nothing to see here, nothing’s wrong, they just made a bunch of shots. That’s two straight games where the opponent just made a bunch of shots.

The D seemed to pick up down the stretch when Bennett went to Mamadi Diakite alongside Isaiah Wilkins in the post, and UVA outscored Pitt by seven in his nine second-half minutes.

So there’s a bright spot. Diakite should be getting more minutes anyway. Why he only got 11 Wednesday night is something we need to be debating.

You’re getting tired of me saying this, but it’s still early. What’s going on across the national landscape – Villanova lost tonight, Louisville lost again – tells us that this is going to be a season where the key is to be playing your best basketball in late February heading into March, and most importantly to be as healthy as possible in March.

Nobody wants or likes to lose games between now and then, but Bennett is like every other coach in America right now, trying to figure out what he has, and what combinations to throw out on the floor to put his team in the best position to win.

Bennett probably didn’t do as good a job at that Wednesday night as he would like to have done. I wasn’t in the media room postgame tonight, but I’d be willing to bet that he admitted as much, if given the opportunity.

No harm, no foul. This team is a team that can win games in March. They need to start winning in January.

Column by Chris Graham

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