Rushed Reactions: #6 Virginia 51 – Pittsburgh 48Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014
Three Key Takeaways:
- Virginia has officially arrived. While the Cavaliers didn’t put away Pittsburgh until the very end, they made the championship game looking for the school’s second ACC title since joining the conference, and first in nearly 40 years. This team is Tony Bennett’s baby: They are one of the only teams in the country to improve their win total in each of the last five years. His team doesn’t always run attractive offense (though it’s certainly better than the final score would indicate), but its defense is spectacular. Down the stretch it was clear that Malcolm Brogdon has taken on the go-to role. He committed a costly turnover that led to James Robinson’s layup with 10 seconds left, but look for Virginia to put the ball in his hands down the stretch. Part of the reason for that is because Joe Harris excels off the ball, but it’s also a testament to Brogdon’s growth.
- Retro officiating fit the teams. With two physical defenses on the court, the refs opted to swallow their whistles by only calling 20 fouls in the first 38 minutes (there were seven in the last minute for obvious reasons). There weren’t any easy rebounds to be found. And while Pittsburgh likely benefited from the style most of the game, there was a lot of contact on James Robinson’s layup that cut the Virginia lead to one with 10 seconds left. When asked about contact on a layup late, Akil Mitchell said he was “a little bit” surprised that there wasn’t a whistle. Jamie Dixon wasn’t impressed: “We just saw it on video. What can you do? What can you do? Just watched it. Everybody saw it.”
- Pittsburgh needs to get to the rim more. Down the stretch Jamie Dixon opted to spread the floor and attack the basket. It was very effective. Especially when Lamar Patterson isn’t hitting jumpers, Pittsburgh is best attacking inside. Patterson, Robinson and Cameron Wright are all very good finishers, and that doesn’t even take into account that teams can only help off Talib Zanna if they want him to get a putback. The Panthers still need to shoot enough jumpers to keep people honest (though I’m not sure Jamel Artis should take any threes the rest of the year).
Player of the Game: Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, Virginia. Weird that a couple of guys who didn’t start share the honors, but Virginia wouldn’t have won this game without their intensity. Gill hit a couple of big shots down the stretch — including two free throws that put the game on ice — along with grabbing five boards. Anderson just played unbelievable defense. He was everywhere, including the last play where he blocked Robinson’s game-tying field goal attempt. Anderson’s contributions don’t show up on the stat sheet, but he makes this team a lot better. After the game Akil Mitchell put it well: “It’s definitely necessary to have a guy like [Anderson] just because he gives us so much energy and if anybody’s dead or anybody is kind of flat-footed. He gets us going. Gets on our nerves every once in a while, but it’s definitely necessary.
Tony Bennett recounted this back and forth with his father, Dick Bennett, on attending the game:
DB: ‘If you win your first game, I’ll come to the second game in the tournament.’
TB: ‘Okay. Are you going to watch the first game?’
TB: I called him after the Florida State game. I said, ‘Did you watch?’
TB: ‘Okay, are you coming then because we won?’
DB: ‘No. If you make it to the championship, I’ll come.’
But the elder Bennett showed up this morning anyways to warn his son that it was going to be a “blue collar knuckle-buster.”
Sights and Sounds: For the first time since 2011, the ACC will crown an original member champion. Virginia brought a lot of people to Greensboro (it’s around a three-hour drive), and I expect even more to make the trip down for tomorrow’s championship game.
What’s Next: Pittsburgh waits to find out its seeding fate while Virginia prepares to face either Duke or NC State tomorrow in the championship game.