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A closer look at Virginia's pack-line defense

Dick Bennett, who formerly coached at Wisconsin and Washington State, designed the pack-line defense in the 1990s. Bennett's son, Tony, now coaches the Virginia men's basketball team, which will play Maryland tomorrow at Comcast Center. Predictably, Tony Bennett employs the same defensive strategy his father devised.

The pack-line defense shares many principles with man-to-man defensive schemes. Each defender is matched up with an offensive player, and there ideally is a significant amount of pressure on the opposing ballhandler at all times. Quick defensive rotations enable whoever is guarding the ballhandler to be more aggressive. Should that defender get beat off the dribble, there would be help clogging the path to the basket behind him in a hurry.

The four other defenders remain inside a parameter that extends from the baseline to within two feet of the three-point arc. The point is to conserve constantly the amount of space in between defenders. There is lots of help defense and lots of doubling up in the post. If run correctly, dribble penetration by opposing guards is quite a difficult task.

The Cavaliers have picked up Bennett's defensive approach relatively quickly, given this is just his first year at the helm. In conference play, Virginia owns the top scoring defense (63.8 points per game allowed) in the ACC. The Cavaliers also own a plus-2.5 turnover margin, which ranks second in the conference in ACC play.

Maryland enters tomorrow night's contest against Virginia with the ACC's most potent offense (77.2 points per game) in conference play. The Terrapins have led the ACC in field goal percentage (46.1 percent), three-point field goal percentage (45.5 percent) and assists (16.4 apg) since conference play began.

But when run effectively, Virginia's pack-line defense limits its opponents in all three of those areas. The scheme clogs the lane, which makes inside-out passing more difficult. And because the pack-line defense is designed to cut down on dribble penetrations, kick-out passes off of drives into the lane to perimeter shooters are not as readily available.

Where Maryland could do some damage is in transition, before Virginia's defense has time to get set and make any necessary rotations. In that regard, senior guard Eric Hayes could play a significant factor against the Cavaliers tomorrow night, especially if he can connect on a few fast-break three-pointers.

Tony Bennett remarked on the ACC coaches' teleconference Monday that Hayes had "a beautiful shot" with "hardly any wasted motion" and a "quick release." In ACC play, Hayes is leading the conference in three-point shooting percentage (51.4 percent).

By Steve Yanda  |  February 9, 2010; 10:21 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: Sylven Landesberg: Cavs headed back to Charlottesville


FYI -- tomorrow's game is cancelled. The news just leaked. I'm guessing they reschedule the game for Mon., Feb. 15. Is it possible to move the game to Charlottsville and then move the Feb. 27 game to College Park? Probably not, but that's the most ideal situation, seeing as we probably will have to play three games in five days now.

Posted by: TerpTicker | February 9, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

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