Tony Bennett’s Virginia team doesn’t win a lot of games with ease, but the No. 6 Cavaliers have found ways to methodically grind out wins throughout the entire season. Virginia did it once again on Saturday, as the Cavaliers held off upset-minded Pitt, 51-48, in an ACC Tournament semifinal contest in Greensboro.
Virginia (27-6) advanced to its first ACC title game since 1994 with the win as they still hold out hope for the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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The Cavaliers led for the final 21:45 of Saturday’s win over Pitt — despite never leading by more than eight points — as Virginia’s ball-control offense and steady team defense allowed them to slowly squeeze the Panthers out of the game.
Virginia shot 21-for-45 from the field (46 percent) and 6 of 7 from the free throw line as the Cavalier defense held Pitt to 36 percent shooting from the field.
Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson’s steal and tough, contested lay-up with 11 seconds left cut Virginia’s lead to a point at 49-48, but Anthony Gill made a pair of free throws to get to the final score. Bennett opted to have Virginia play defense instead of fouling on the final possession with his team up three and he was rewarded by reserve sophomore forward Justin Anderson blocking Robinson’s tying three-point attempt to seal the victory.
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Senior Joe Harris led Virginia with 12 points on the afternoon while Malcoln Brogdon (10 points) and Gill (10 points) also finished in double-figures.
Pitt (25-9) was led by Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, as the seniors each had 15 points in the loss.
Virginia isn’t the sexiest team to pick to go to the Final Four, but they’ve won 15 of their last 16 games — with the overtime loss at Maryland last Sunday being their only loss — and with their ability to hold on to the ball and take good shots, they make a five-point lead seem like a 15-point lead. As long as the Cavaliers can dictate the pace of the game and slow things down, they’ll be a very tough out in the tournament.
With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.
And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.
Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.
Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.
Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.
Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.
“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”
While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.