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Bennett sticking to his guns, sacrificing offense for defense, to Virginia’s detriment

uva tony bennett
Virginia coach Tony Bennett. Photo by Dan Grogan.

What if Tony Bennett were to give more minutes to sharpshooters Igor Milicic Jr., Taine Murray, Carson McCorkle?

The glimmer of offensive firepower in Virginia’s 82-49 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday was a glimpse into what could be if that were to happen.

Reality check: it ain’t going to happen.

“Sometimes when we’re struggling to score a little bit, we’ve got to hang in there with our defense, and so a lot of it’s just repetitions, continuity, know-how, and it’s so new to most of them. exception of Kody (Stattmann), he’s been in the system, and you can see that,” Bennett said.

“You just keep moving that needle,” Bennett said. “Hopefully they’ll get better and better. But, you know, again, if it was just one thing, well, this guy got beat off the dribble, oh, this guy doesn’t understand what it means to, you know, help on screens, there’s a number of things, and then finish plays on the glass. All that is wrapped up. It’s a hard way, to play good defense in any system is hard, but you’re asking a lot, but it’s required for us, and we need, we need it all.”

Bennett had said last week that he was getting settled with his eight-man rotation, and if that’s the case, neither Milicic, Murray nor McCorkle are in that mix.

None of the three got into the game before the 12:01 mark. Bennett’s bench guys to that point were five-man Francisco Caffaro and backcourt subs Malachi Poindexter and Stattmann.

The lack of threat from the perimeter with the current rotation – which includes starters Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick – was evident as ever on Saturday.

The ‘Hoos had one make from three in the game’s first 29 minutes.

The subs had a stretch late with seven straight made threes.

Bennett is, with his current rotation, sacrificing offense for defense. Franklin, an Indiana transfer, was supposed to provide both, but he’s shooting just 21.1 percent from three, leaving Clark, a 40.9 percent shooter from long-range, the biggest perimeter threat, the complication there being, he’s the point guard.

Virginia has a hard time scoring consistently in halfcourt sets as a result. The 2021-2022 Cavaliers are scoring just 1.056 points per possession, per KenPom.com, down from the 1.147 points per possession that last year’s team produced.

That was one where Bennett actually sacrificed defense for offense – leaving offensively-gifted transfers Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy out there despite their obvious discomfort in the Pack-Line.

Funny thing: last year’s group was only a smidge less effective on the defensive end, allowing .933 points per possession, to the .930 points per possession being allowed this season.

That’s the sad part of this story: that Bennett is sacrificing offense for defense, and the defense still isn’t up to snuff.

And meanwhile, he’s leaving shooters like Milicic (42.1 percent from three), Murray (46.7 percent) and McCorkle (33.3 percent) on the bench.

Most vexing here is the minutes being given to Poindexter, a walk-on who is rated by advanced-metrics provider Synergy Sports the worst defender, by an order of magnitude – allowing 1.083 points per possession to opponents.

Milicic rates “below average” at .929 points per possession, while Murray (.786) and McCorkle (.733) rate as “good.”

But for the moment, anyway, Bennett seems set on having those guys ride the pine in the name of defensive continuity.

Which is why this team won’t be hearing its name called on Selection Sunday for the first time in a long, long while.

Story by Chris Graham


augusta free press
augusta free press