Maryland, VCU have had success against the UVA Pack-Line

uva basketballFew teams can give the UVA Pack-Line defense fits. Two come to mind that can: Maryland and VCU, who happen to be the Cavs’ opponents this week.

The Pack-Line works best against teams that rely on screens, pick-and-rolls and dumps into the post to get their offense, which is to say, just about everybody. Teams that can freelance from multiple points of entry on the floor can break through the numbers game that coach Tony Bennett’s system plays against opponents, with tough hedges to break up pick-and-rolls and disrupt screens and double teams in the post that force plus-post scorers to spin the ball back out to the perimeter.

Maryland and VCU, two of the seven teams to beat UVA in 2013-2014, are a danger to UVA because by and large they have players who can create from the perimeter. I say by and large, because a key to the Maryland offensive attack, 6’5” senior guard Dez Wells (16.2 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting), is out with an injury, which will allow the ‘Hoos to focus more energy on 6’3” freshman guard Melo Trimble (16.6 ppg, 51.8 percent FG, 48.4 percent three-point FG) and 6’9” junior post player Jake Layman (14.6 ppg, 5.7 rebounds per game).

VCU can similarly attack from multiple angles, with guards Treveon Graham (17.4 ppg, 44.6 percent FG) and Melvin Johnson (17.1 ppg, 46.1 percent FG) able to poke their way through the Pack-Line.

Both teams will try to force tempo on a Virginia team that is an eye-popping 348th in the country (of the 351 D1 teams) in adjusted tempo, according to, at 59.6 possessions per game (VCU is 37th with 70.6 per game; Maryland is 184th at 66.4 per game). With the limited possessions, it gets increasingly hard for UVA opponents to score on the Pack-Line, with the Cavs third nationally in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pom, allowing just 84.6 points per 100 possessions).

What Virginia doesn’t get credit for is what it can do on offense. The limited possessions can keep the final scores low, but from an efficiency standpoint, UVA can put the ball in the hoop with the best of them, scoring 106.8 points per 100 possessions, 39th nationally according to KenPom.

So teams that want to force tempo on Virginia are advised to do so at their own peril. A series of rushed, ultimately empty possessions can play into UVA’s strategy, which is less to play basketball and more to win a war of attrition.

But as last year’s results show, if anybody can do it, it’s Maryland and VCU, two obviously tough tests for UVA basketball this week.

– Column by Chris Graham

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