After falling to Minnesota in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday night, Pitt has its eyes set on its first conference game of the year, Friday night’s matchup with Virginia.
“It’s been good,” Jeff Capel said when asked how his team has responded since the loss. “We’ve had good practices. We got together on Thursday, and like I said, we reviewed everything. Talked about the positives, talked about the things we didn’t do well and got back to work. Had a really good day on the court Thursday, didn’t go long. I thought we had a really good practice today. Attitudes have been good, and we’re excited for the first conference game. One of the things, in what we do, you have to move on, you have to have the ability to move on, and it seems like we’ve done that. Hopefully it shows tomorrow.”
Virginia (5-3) opened this season with a surprising loss at home to Navy. Since then, the Cavaliers have been pretty up and down, losing two more games to Houston and Iowa, but also blowing out a few other teams, including a 7-1 Providence squad.
“Defensively, we have to keep them out of our paint, we have to contain penetration,” Capel continued. “We have to do a good job on Gardner who is their leading scorer. He’s a guy that is mainly inside, although last game against Iowa he stepped out and made two threes. But we have to do a really good job of keeping them out of our paint and making them contested shooters. We know that they’re going to be extremely physical, that’s how they play. So we have to be able to match that. And then offensively we have to be able to produce some points. They are a very difficult team to score against, and we have to be connected in what we’re doing, we have to know what we’re doing, and then we have to be able to go out and execute against their physicality.”
The Cavaliers are led by 6-foot-6 forward Jayden Gardner, who was one of the hottest commodities in the transfer portal this offseason out of East Carolina. Currently averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, Gardner has proven that he can still put up similar numbers that he did while at ECU. Their second leading scorer, guard Armaan Franklin, also came in from the portal this year after playing last year at Indiana.
“I think one of the things is that they’ve been a program that’s mainly been older,” Capel said about Virginia. “Meaning that they’ve had experienced guys in their program. Whether it’s most of their post guys since Tony has been there have redshirted. So you get these fifth year seniors. Like a lot of schools around the country, they were greatly affected by the transfer portal, by the way the rules changed. So they have some older guys, but they’re new to their system. So I think that’s the big difference. Whether it’s a Gardner, whether it’s a Franklin, guys like that, and then the rest of the guys are younger. Now Clark is still there, who’s a national champion. Beekman is still there, who’s a guy that played for them last year as a sophomore. Shedrick is there, he didn’t play much, but he got to play against Huff and learn their system and things like that. bu they have a lot of new faces, I think that’s probably the main difference. The style of play is still the same, the same principles, the same core values, but the personnel is just a little different.”
The Cavaliers are currently ranked as the No. 46 team in the nation according to Kenpom.com. They are giving up only 56.2 points per game, which ranks tenth best in the nation. In the loss against Iowa, the highest scoring team in the country (94+ ppg), Virginia held the Hawkeyes to 75 points, but could not come out on top, losing by just one.
Offensively, not too many statistics stand out for the Cavaliers as a team in a positive way. They only score 63 points per game, which ranks 318th out of 350 programs in division one. They only make 5.8 three-pointers per game, which ranks 298th.
Pitt and Virginia will tip off on Friday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. in Charlottesville. The game will be broadcast on ACC Network.