Countdown to tip-off: The defense
Note: Each day leading up to the Nov. 13 opener against Longwood, Cavaliers Journal will explore a different topic about the 2009-10 Virginia men’s basketball team.
Ask any Virginia player about Tony Bennett’s coaching style, and their first response usually involves defense. In the little time the Cavaliers have spent with their new coach, defense was the primary emphasis.
Bennett’s teams at Washington State were known for the “Pack Line” defensive system developed by Bennett’s father, Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett has brought that style to Virginia and spent his first months with the team preaching its importance.
“I want our guys to say: ‘Playing for Coach Bennett, if you take care of the ball, he’s a good guy to play for offensively. He gives you freedom to play to your creative abilities and do things. But defensively, he’s a jerk to play for. He really rules with an iron fist,' ” Bennett said. “That’s what I want it to be like. I want to give them no wiggle room defensively.”
The system has become popular throughout college basketball. Arizona Coach Sean Miller used it with Xavier and brought it to the Wildcats. Wake Forest Coach Dino Gaudio introduced the system to the Demon Deacons. It has man-to-man principles and is predicted upon jamming the lane and forcing contested outside shots.
Washington State had the best scoring defense in the nation last season, limiting opponents to 55.4 points per game. They were third in 2007-08 and 17th in 2006-07, which was Bennett’s first season as head coach at Washington State. It will not force many turnovers and has the tendency to keep scores low, but it also forces opponents to play to the pace desired by Bennett’s team.
“It’s a percentage defense,” Bennett said. “It lowers possessions because if it’s played well, it takes teams longer to break it down, so it lowers possessions, which can lower scores. You’re not creating turnovers, but hopefully, shooting percentages are a little lower.”
There is an adjustment with the players on the current roster, which played different defensive sets under former Coach Dave Leitao. Bennett said the freshmen at Washington State often struggled learning the defensive system, but tended to master the defense later in their careers. Bennett has specifically needed to overhaul the way Virginia's players ”close out” and “play the ball."
He said he has not watched much defensive game film from last season, because the players must learn and excel in the new system.
“Defensively, you can’t take away everything,” Bennett said. “You got to choose what you want to be good at. If you’re going to force turnovers and deny, and yet take away the lane and bother every shot, you show me that defense and everybody in the country will run.”
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