Tony Bennett's Virginia Cavaliers are in the midst of the best program overhaul in recent memory. In just his sixth season, the Cavaliers head into Wednesday night's game against Wake Forest ranked No. 2 in the nation with a record of 25-1.
And remarkably, Virginia has improved their win totals every single year in Bennett's tenure- something that shouldn't change this season.
Compared to the other top-tier ACC teams like Duke, Louisville and UNC, the Hoos aren't winning with five star recruits. In actuality, Bennett's recruits at Virginia average 3.25 stars. To put that in perspective, Brian Gregory's recruits at Georgia Tech average 3.20 stars.
Instead of bringing in the most sought-after players as a jumping pad for one year, the Cavaliers groom their players over four (sometimes five) years. Their starting lineup consists of one senior, three juniors and a sophomore.
Also, Bennett brings in the "right" guys to fit into his hellacious defense. He finds versatile players who can guard several positions. The blueprint is 6-5 junior Malcolm Brogdon is capable of guarding anyone from Codi Miller-McIntyre to Greg McClinton on Wednesday night. With this length and athleticism, the Cavaliers can attack on defense by switching regularly on pick-and-rolls and trapping the weak-side. This 5-man aggressive defense is trademarked as the "pack-line defense."
In route to their first ACC championship since 1980-1981, Virginia finished with the No. 5 defensive efficiency in the country according to KenPom. This season, they rank No. 1 and are second in eFG% at 41.3. Also, the Hoos rank fourth in the nation in defensive rebounds at 76 percent. Interestingly, Virginia ranks merely 282nd in turnovers forced. To put it simply, Bennett's pack-line revolves around contesting poor, inefficient shots. Because of this, they have had a top 6 defensive efficiency in 3 of the past 4 years.
While most salivate over their defense, on offense, they simply just. play. smart. Overall, they are the 30th most efficient team on offense. This is mostly because they. just. don't. make. mistakes. The Cavaliers boast the fifth best turnover ratio in the nation. Offense is where they have grown the most under Bennett. During the 2011-2012 season, UVA had the 6th best defensive efficiency, but had the 147th best offense. As a result, they went 9-7 in the ACC. Over the past three years, however, they have been 89th, 21st, and now 31st. Combining elite defense with very sound offense is their path to a title.
What Virginia does best, however, is they impose their will on their opponents. They play at a sloth-like pace that ranks third to last in the NCAA- four spots below Wisconsin. And they make sure the game is played at this tempo. As evidence, they have allowed 60 points in a mere six games this season. Wake Forest, who prefers a frenetic, fast break pace, was one of those teams in their 61-60 loss.
Some criticize Virginia's methodical style of play and claim its about as boring as Tony Bennett's (the singer) 1960's classics. But for basketball aficionados, the Hoos employ a physical, team-oriented strategy that makes true basketball fans ooze. As the great Mark Titus says aptly...
If you say you love basketball and you say that Virginia is boring, one of those statements is false.
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) February 18, 2015
Television stations want a Duke and Kentucky national championship. But me? I'm all in for a Wisconsin and Virginia turtle race to the championship. The scoreboard might break, but the brand of basketball is second to none.