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Tony Bennett Creates Conflict

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
UVA Offense In ACC Play
Four Factors Percent ACC Rank
eFG% 51.9 3
Turnover Rate 17.0 3
Off Reb Rate 27.4 11
FTA/FGA 27.2 11

UVA Defense In ACC Play
Four Factors Percent ACC Rank
eFG% 46.9 3
Turnover Rate 20.8 2
Off Reb Rate 26.7 2
FTA/FGA 34.9 8

Bearing in mind that conference schedules are unbalanced and make side-by-side comparisons more difficult as a result, there is little question that Virginia has been one of the best three or four ACC teams in league play all season. Along with Duke and Miami, the Cavs are on a tier well above everyone else--those were the only three schools to outscore conference foes by more than 0.10 points per possession.

I can't reconcile the stats with what I see when I watch Virginia games. Sometimes I feel like Tony Bennett exists merely to test my faith in the validity of statistical analysis. But that's the thing about Virginia--it plays slow, and it wins in the margins, and this is a combination that leaves little impression on the mind save "ugh low scoring this is ugly ugh." There is a good team hidden in there.

Bennett's team leverages turnover margin better than most, and it eschews offensive boards in favor of getting back on defense, which also helps it clean up on the defensive glass. To some extent, the Cavs have just been lucky--opponents are hitting threes and free throws at rates below the national averages in those respective categories. They're doing a lot right, though, and their interior defense, including their block and steal rates, are testaments to this.

We saw it in Charlottesville. They swarm the hell out of the ball and they're really active in terms of their footwork and communication. What they lack in talent they make up for with effort, and no matter your feelings about how the game at UVA was officiated, that's impressive. It's not easy to structure or coach a team to play that way. We don't have to like it. We definitely don't have to watch it if it's at all avoidable. But Tony Bennett's stuff just works. He should have been the ACC's coach of the year.

I'm sure I won't feel this charitable about Virginia once the ball tips on Friday afternoon. In no time I'll be frustrated by Virginia's style of play and probably the officiating as well, and anyway I'm still mad about that first meeting. I think UVA sticks in the craw because it doesn't feel like the Cavaliers have business beating anybody. Maybe that's where they get you. Ineloquent efficiency.