The Virginia Cavaliers have been one of the best programs in college basketball over the last five or six years, and it’s been mostly because of their Pack-Line defense, which, by design, forces opponents to take contested jumpers.
Why is Bennett’s approach so effective?
“Well, it’d be similar to in football the 8-in-the-box approach where they’re going to force you to try to win the game by shooting from the perimeter,” CBS college basketball analyst Steve Lavin said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “They’re going to take away lay-ups, dunks, second-shot opportunities, and-one opportunities at point-blank range. So when you tighten up, red-zone defense would be another in NFL terms, right? If your defense is solid, maybe you bend a little bit in the middle of the field, but you’re going to tighten up that defense from the 20-yard-line to the end zone, and I think Virginia is able to do that. They’re fundamentally sound. Their habits defensively in terms of tracing the ball, active fee, active hands, moving on a string so to speak, in concert in terms of each dribble, each pass – all the players are moving. So they constantly have that kind of Pack-Line defense or eight-in-the-box approach, and so to beat them, you’ve got to be able to shoot the ball from long-distance or get yourself to the foul line often enough as Villanova did in their victory over Virginia. But that was on Villanova’s home court.”
Indeed, Virginia lost to then-No. 1 Villanova, 61-59, on Jan. 29. The Cavaliers actually made eight more shots from the field (25-17) and made six threes to Nova’s seven. The Wildcats, however, shot 20-of-24 from the foul line while Virginia shot 3-of-3.
That’s quite a difference.
“Villanova had the ability to get themselves to the foul line,” Lavin said. “Some of that may have been home-cooking. That’s why there’s an advantage to playing home games.”
Either way, No. 21 Virginia (21-9, 11-7) will be a tough out in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
“I’d say it’s the fact that their offense sets up their defense,” Lavin said, explaining the Cavaliers’ success. “They take care of the ball, they’re always leaders in terms of ball security, turnovers, assist-turnover rates, they take great shots, they’re patient, and while they have the ball, the opponent doesn’t. When the opponent does get the ball, their defense is back so you never get the mathematics back in transition. No easy run-outs when you face Virginia. So put all those factors together, and it’s a day at the dentist when you face a team like Virginia.”
Virginia will play the winner of Georgia Tech (17-14) versus Pittsburgh (15-16) in the ACC Tournament on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. ET.