Never doubt the defense of a Bennett coached team. A look into his Virginia Cavaliers.

Defense. Defense. Defense. Bennett's teams can D up!

It is tough to understand Virginia’s surprising run this year without mentioning Tony Bennett. Just can’t do it. Why? Because this isn’t the first time that he has turned a program around using his tough defensive schemes.

Thoughts by DJ

Syracuse has the 2-3 zone. Nolan Richardson coined the term “40 minutes of hell” concept in Arkansas. Mike Anderson continued it at UAB; then took it Missouri and now is trying it at Arkansas again. College Hoops is a sport where defensive systems can work.

The Bennetts may not necessarily have a system that yields championships ala ‘Cuse or Arkansas but for about 13 years, their style of play on the defensive end has resulted in decent seasons.

1. Dick Bennett took Wisconsin to a surprising Final Four in 2000.
2. Tony Bennett took Washington State to a Sweet 16 in 2008 and the tournament in 2007.

Virginia is 14-2 after a great performance at Cameron on Thursday night.

So what’s the big deal of a Sweet 16? Plenty of teams make it once in a while. The achievement is about how they did it, where they did it and when they did it. Tony Bennett’s system took a couple of years to be in place in Washington State – a program that hasn’t been relevant before he got there and after he left. Despite his success at Washington State, Bennett took a Virginia job at a program that hasn’t done much in the basketball world. If memory serves me right, I believe they had a fairly good season in the early ‘00s but Mark Few’s Zags took it to them early in the NCAA tournament in an upset.

So what exactly is the system? John Gasaway has a great article in Basketball Prospectus explaining the “Pack Line” defensive scheme. The perimeter defense is a trademark of any Bennett coached team. I say Bennett coached, not just Tony b/c his father employed a similar system.

Anybody who put money on the Badgers making it to the Final Four in the 2000 tournament could have made more than a few bucks in Vegas. An 8 seed took down the potent offense of Arizona in the 2nd round that had the talent to make it to the championship game a year later. Dick Bennett’s team played suffocating perimeter defense throughout the tournament. Mike Kelley and John Bryant were designated stoppers in his pack line defensive schemes.

Tony Bennett’s Cougars shut down their opponents in similar styles during the 2007-2008 seasons. And after 16 games this season Virginia is getting some recognition, especially after the performance against Duke a few nights ago. Bennett’s system is back but in a different city. The personnel are in place to implement his system and rest of the ACC will take notice if the Duke game was any sign about their strengths.

So what does this Virginia team do well? Let’s understand the strengths and weaknesses of this team and the Washington State’s 2007-2008 can be used as a basis for comparison. Duke was their best opponent this year and they did not disappoint so that game can be used as an example to analyze the #s.

Strengths on Defense

The Cavaliers can play some great perimeter defense. The guards get up against the 3-point line and contest every shot especially during the 2nd half. Duke only shot 25% from beyond the arc a couple of nights ago. And they have some 3 point specialists in Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. This was in line with rest of the season for Virginia so far.

The Cavaliers limit the opposing teams to about 27% from beyond the arc and take out their strength. This is a great way to prevent your opponent from streaky runs. Joel Harris and Malcolm Brogdon are the primary defenders for Virginia. But their wingmen are athletic enough to get out of the point, rotate on switches and contest shots. Mike Scott and Akil Mitchell are 6’8 but fairly nimble on defense to prevent open jump shots.

Harris and Brogdon are prototypical guards in the Tony Bennett system. Looking for their shot isn’t their primary concern … they would rather take it upon themselves to limit the output of the guy they are assigned to guard. Experience is a little bit of a concern for this set of guards, they are only a sophomore and freshman. Despite the youth, they are catching onto the system but the Wazzou teams from 2007 had some seniority. Experience combined with the defensive intensity can peak the opposing team’s frustration.

Here is the opposing 3-point shooting % for the Washington State teams:

2007 – 33.1 % and 2008 – 33.2%

The Hoo’s are defending the 3 with even more intensity this year due to their length and athelticsm from Scott and Mitchell. Cougars had Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver doing their job but they also had to get the job done on the offensive end.

Bennett’s guards not only prevent the big shot but they wreak havoc on the ball handlers. One of the goals of the pack line defensive schemes is to prevent dribble penetration. Now, Virginia’s guards aren’t there yet … they are still learning the system. Austin Rivers was able to find his way into the paint fairly well during their matchup but that isn’t so much a knock against Virginia’s guards b/c Rivers is one of the best guards in the country to create off the dribble. Despite the Duke game, the opposing turnover % is fairly high in the Cavalier’s 16 games this season.

Here are the opposing turnover percentages …

Virginia 2012 (22.9), Wazzou 2007 (21.8), Wazzou 2008 (21.3)

Experience will play a key role for the Hoo’s team as the ACC season progresses. Harris and Brogdon’s youth is shown in the turnover % when compared to the previous Bennett coached teams that had success. They are turning the ball over at a 18.9 % when compared to Derrick Low led teams under Bennett only turned it over 16.5 %. One can expect the ball handling to get much better for the Hoo’s over the 2nd half of the season. But turning the ball over fewer than your opponent is extremely essential for Virginia to succeed in the long run b/c they don’t necessarily have the players who can create their own shot. So how is their offense?

Mike Scott is a force on the offensive glass.

Strengths on Offense

Mike Scott is getting a fair amount of push from the smaller media outlets for college basketball player of the year honors. National player of the year award may be a little bit too much to ask for now but he certainly has a legit case for ACC player of the year. Our guru, Ken Pomeroy has a great article making the case for Scott on his blog … obviously a must read. But what is so special about Scott?

Virginia plays a slower tempo than most teams – 60.5 possessions per game. Bennet’s teams in Washington played about 60 per game as well.

On a side note, this is why most Badger fans have Tony Bennett listed as their primary candidate to replace Bo Ryan once he decides to hang them up in Madison. Bennett’s offense is methodical and tries to maximize the points per possession. Does that sound familiar? Essentially how Madison has been used to watching basketball for about a decade now.

Scott came out firing against Duke and showed a wide array of moves – 3 point shots, post moves and hustle plays were just a few of them. As mentioned earlier in the post, they don’t have the guards to create their own shot … just yet. Now that doesn’t mean Bennett will bring in Marquise Teague-esque crossover moves to run his offense. That’s not his style. But Derrick Low is an exemplary guard that can be expected from the Virignia offense at some point … could happen this year but that might be too soon.

So does that mean the UVA offense stinks? Not really. They will struggle to come from behind b/c of a lack offensive firepower. However, they are TREMENDOUS on the offensive glass. All those missed shots are maximized b/c this team has the wings who hit the boards.

Mitchelle and Scott DOMINATED the offensive glass against Duke. 34 to 27 to be exact. The Plumlees (or Plumli’) had no answer for these wings flying from everywhere trying to tip in misses. 14 out of the 34 boards for the Hoo’s were on the offensive end. Their offensive rebounding % for the game – 34%. Not too shabby against a Duke team that is great at defending the glass, specifically at home.

Here are the OR % figures for Virginia and the Wazzou teams …

Virginia 2012 (32.6), Wazzou 2007 (26.8), Wazzou 2008 (28.1)

The OR % is what separates this specific Bennett team from his older ones.If this trend continues to hold, Virginia can maximize their possessions despite their youth on the perimeter.

So how far does this Virginia team go in ACC and beyond? They have been tagged as the 3rd best team in the ACC for now but the game against Duke showed that they are here to stay. With this group of wingmen hitting the boards and a continued defensive intensity means that they will give UNC some trouble. UNC couldn’t handle Florida State’s defensive intensity over the weekend and the Cavalier’s perimeter defense is the best in the nation. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes … Tony Bennett is on pace to set up his vintage defensive system and style of play at this ACC program that has not had much to celebrate historically.

3 Comments to “Never doubt the defense of a Bennett coached team. A look into his Virginia Cavaliers.”

  1. Nice article. Virginia hasn’t been relevant since Ralph Sampson was patrolling the lane. Looks like Bennet has them on the right track.

  2. Well done young skywalker!

  3. Very true about Sampson. Heck, his kid chose a sub-par Big Ten program (Minnesota) over Virginia to play 4 years. Bennett’s move to UVA was surprising but he is one of the more underrated younger coaches in the business.

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