Wahoo Preview: No. 13 Virginia at Georgia Tech

By Scott Ratcliffe

Armaan Franklin (Photo by Jon Golden)

Virginia will be gunning for its 10th-straight victory over Georgia Tech Saturday, as the Cavaliers close out the calendar year in Atlanta against the Yellow Jackets (Noon, ACC Network).

The big question for UVA (9-2, 1-1 ACC) is the availability of junior point guard Reece Beekman, who missed his first game of the season on Wednesday against UAlbany.

Beekman, who hasn’t been at 100 percent since suffering a hamstring strain against James Madison back on Dec. 6, is averaging 9.4 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals this season.

“We need Reece as close to 100 percent as possible,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after Wednesday’s win over the Great Danes. “I think it’s improving, it just didn’t feel quite right. We decided, let’s give him a full week and then reevaluate.”

Bennett, who with a win Saturday would tie Terry Holland atop the UVA all-time victories list with 326, said he hopes to have Beekman back, but doesn’t want to rush anything.

“A hamstring pull, or different things, can take a little while, so we’ve got to be as smart as we can and just respond and read how he’s feeling and keep giving him great rehab, and then rest,” said Bennett, who has won 16 of his 18 career meetings against Georgia Tech as UVA coach. “So this will be a good seven-day period to reevaluate, and hopefully he’ll be good to go, but it’ll always be what’s best for him.”

The Jackets (7-5, 0-2) have dropped five of their last nine games after jumping out to a 3-0 start. Tech prevailed in each of its first six home games against inferior competition (Clayton State, Northern Illinois, North Alabama, Northeastern, Georgia and Alabama State) before falling to Clemson, 79-66, at McCamish Pavilion in its last contest on Dec. 21.

As of Friday evening, the Jackets check in at No. 117 in the KenPom ratings (153rd AdjO; 109th AdjD) and No. 138 in the NET rankings.

Josh Pastner’s squad is led by sophomore guard Miles Kelly, who scores a team-high 13.6 points per game. Kelly is Tech’s most deadly perimeter shooter, knocking down 25 of his 66 attempts from beyond the arc (38 percent).

Two other sophomores have also been significant contributors, as forward Jalon Moore is averaging 10.1 points per contest, while also leading the team in rebounds with 6.2 per game. Guard Dallan “Deebo” Coleman averages 9.7 points per game.

South Alabama senior forward transfer Javon Franklin leads the Jackets with 2.0 blocks per game to go with 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds a night. Junior guard Deivon Smith is the team leader in both assists (3.3 apg) and steals (1.4 spg), while also scoring 8.1 points per game.

Meanwhile, a trio of seniors — Gardner-Webb transfer Lance Terry (7.1 ppg), guard Kyle Sturdivant (7.1 ppg) and 6-foot-11 center Rodney Howard (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) — have all been productive for the Jackets as well.

Tech has lost its last three home matchups against Virginia, with its last win in Atlanta over the Cavaliers coming nearly seven years ago (Jan. 9, 2016).

“We’ll have to be really good, but a great opportunity for us,” Pastner said about facing the 13th-ranked Cavaliers. “Life’s all about opportunities.”

Should Beekman ultimately sit out a second-straight contest, his teammates will have to pick up the slack. Kihei Clark, Armaan Franklin and Isaac McKneely played the majority of the guard minutes in his absence Wednesday, but little-used reserves Taine Murray and Chase Coleman also combined for 19 minutes off the bench for an added boost. After a sloppy start, the Hoos finally used a decisive 18-0 run to eventually cruise to an easy 20-point win.

Franklin busted out of his shooting slump, leading all scorers with 20 points, including three 3-pointers. With six more rebounds, senior forward Jayden Gardner, who added 16 points and 7 rebounds against UAlbany, will become the lone active Division-I player with 2,000-plus points and 1,000-plus boards for his career.

Gardner had a big game back in February against the Jackets, pouring in 26 points — the most he’s ever scored against an ACC opponent — on 10-of-19 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds.

In the ACC, it’s always an any-given-night scenario, when all an underdog needs is any combination of hot shooting, solid defense and a positive turnover margin to put itself in a position to win.

Therefore, the Cavaliers, who are listed as a 9.5-point favorite Saturday, need to avoid committing unforced errors, and can’t afford to get behind early, or they could be in danger of falling below the .500-mark in conference play heading into the new year.