Revamped offense fuels Virginia's run
After a slow start, the Cavaliers have taken over the ACC thanks to unselfish play
Dick Bennett can't bring himself to watch Virginia play.
It's too unsettling, too antagonizing for the 70-year-old former coach who lives every possession as if he were his son, Tony, coaching on the sidelines.
He has no problem going to see his daughter, Kathi, coach Northern Illinois' women's basketball team. He'll sit down and watch his grandsons play in Green Bay. But watching Tony Bennett's Virginia games? He just can't do it.
Not even after his wife records the games for him to review.
"When it comes to Tony's games, I've had too many wounds from my 40 years in the business," said Bennett, who coached at Wisconsin from 1995-2001 and took the Badgers to the 2000 Final Four.
Just imagine what Dick Bennett would be like if his son's Cavaliers were in last place.
Good thing for him, UVa is currently in first place in the ACC and riding an 11-game winning streak into Wednesday's game against Miami. That's just the appetizer. The Cavs will play host to Syracuse on Saturday in the most anticipated home game in more than a decade. Dick Bennett won't be watching.
He's been to one game this season in person and that's because the Cavs played close to his home at Green Bay. Virginia lost the game 75-72.
Despite having more ways to see a game -- via phone, tablet, desktop computer, satellite television -- than at any time in his life, Bennett would rather get old-school updates.
"I wait for Tony to call and I say, 'Tell me about the game,' and he does," Bennett said. "And so the temptation to make suggestions is no longer there because I haven't really seen the game."
Earlier in the season, Tony Bennett's conversations with his dad about basketball were more or less him venting about all the things that were wrong.
The Cavs, ranked No. 24 in the preseason, lost high-profile home games against VCU and Wisconsin. They also lost their only two non-conference road games: At Green Bay was first, followed by an embarrassing 87-52 loss at Tennessee.
Tony Bennett said all of those losses were important to the development of his team.
"We realized we weren't quite clicking, we were doing some good things, but not enough," Tony Bennett said. "When we went to Tennessee, it really showed us we've got to take another step, a big step, in the right way and refocus."
Refocusing really just meant re-tooling the offense. Virginia's defense, which takes from his father's "pack-line" philosophy of pressuring the ball and giving help, has consistently been one of the nation's best all season.
UVa leads the nation in scoring defense allowing just 55.3 points per game. No ACC opponent has reached 70 on the Cavs. Duke, which handed them their only league loss, got the closest when Rasheed Sulaimon's game-winning 3-pointer got a soft bounce and rolled in the net for a 69-65 win.
"The way they're playing defense right now, they are very stingy with everything," said Miami coach Jim Larranaga. "They make it very, very hard on you on the perimeter, they put a lot of pressure on the man with the ball."
The defense has always been there, but it's the offense that has turned Virginia into the ACC's front-runner. Senior Joe Harris, who led the team with 16.3 points per game last season en route to being named all-ACC first team, no longer has to carry the team with his scoring. He's not even the leading scorer anymore.
That title belongs to Malcolm Brogdon, who is scoring 12.3 points per game. Harris is second, averaging 11.5 points per game. Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell all hover around eight points per game and can break out on any given night.
The Cavs' balance has made it a lot harder for opponents to defend them. But Tony Bennett said it all started with Harris willingly sacrificing his individual numbers for the team. Last season, Harris took nearly 12 shots per game. This season, he's down to 8.6 shots per game.
"That's sometimes the loudest or biggest influence for your team," Tony Bennett said. "When it's actually happening with [Harris], that's why I think it's been different guys on different nights. The shots have been distributed equally."
After those early losses, Tony Bennett simplified things offensively and reiterated the need to get the ball inside. What he also hoped for, but did not depend on, was the maturation of freshman point guard London Perrantes.
In conference play, Perrantes ranks sixth in the league with 4.1 assists per game. He also ranks first in league play in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The conversations between father and son nowadays have less to do with lamenting Virginia's troubles. They're more about closing out the season strong. The Cavs have a chance to win their first ACC title since sharing it in 2007 with North Carolina.
"It comes down to your quality," Tony Bennett said. "I'm not as worried about results, but what it looks like."
Dick Bennett will finally get a chance to see what it looks like firsthand. He said he plans on attending the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. But until then, he's content to not watch the hottest team in the league.
"I'm thrilled for them, I truly am," Dick Bennett said. "But it's not over. ... I just prefer to stay out of the picture and let him tell me about it."
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