Buzz Williams has Tony Bennett’s number right now

williams_buzzVirginia coach Tony Bennett might be the best in the ACC. But right now, his counterpart down the road in Blacksburg is getting the better of him.

It’s sacrilege among UVA fans to even think this, much less write it, but yeah, Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams has TB’s number right now.

Which is to say, Monday’s 70-68 upset of #4 Virginia was no fluke. Virginia Tech led by five at the half, withstood a barrage of threes by London Perrantes, led by 11 late, and held on in the face of another late Cavs rally.

Another is a reference to the last time these two met in Blacksburg, last January, a 50-47 Virginia win that came after the ‘Hoos rallied from 10 in the final 10 minutes, then held on only after an Adam Smith three at the buzzer rimmed out.

Of note here is that UVA beat Tech 69-57 in Charlottesville in February in a game that the Cavs led by just four with 7:32 to go.

Those were Virginia teams that were ranked #2 in the country. The upset last night was of a team ranked fourth, and rightly so, with four wins over teams in the top 32 of the power rankings, more than #1 Kansas, #2 Oklahoma and #3 Maryland combined.

The ‘Hoos are still a national-title contender. Nothing about last night changes that. If Bennett’s team stays healthy, avoids losing anybody else to an appendix or broken pinky, it will be cutting down some nets in March, maybe April.

Nobody, not even Williams, expects his team to be cutting down any nets. Even with the win last night, pushing Tech to a 2-0 start in the ACC, any postseason run beyond the ACC Tournament would be a welcome surprise.

“I’m thankful that we won. I’m not making light of it, but we still have nine road games and seven home games,” Williams said. “When you show up as David every day against Goliath, you just kind of have a demeanor or a spirit of, Well, we have to fight again. I’m not sure that’s not the right approach you need to have in life.”

Williams is selling himself way, way short there. Sure, he’s David right now, and Virginia is Goliath, but as that story went, the little guy in this case used the big guy’s strength against him.

“We pride ourselves on our defense, so we know at some point we’re going to get a stop, and we didn’t tonight when we needed to. What we pride ourselves on the most really let us down tonight,” UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon said.

But was it the Virginia Pack-Line letting the Cavs down, or Virginia Tech exploiting the Pack-Line at its vulnerable point?

It may have been more the latter than the former.

The Pack-Line, as the textbooks describe, is an imaginary line two feet inside the three-point arc that is designed to prevent dribble drives, with on-ball pressure enabled and enervated by the knowledge of the on-ball defender that the guys in the pack have his back if his guy gets around him.

So, what did Buzz Williams do to attack this? He employed a four-guard lineup to run high pick-and-rolls right into the teeth of the Pack-Line.

Going four-guard against Virginia is nothing new. West Virginia, Villanova and Cal went four-guard quite a bit in their December losses to Virginia.

Williams doesn’t have the talent that any of those have, not even close, but that may have been to his advantage.

The big-name opponents all have effective post guys that coaches want to try to feed, which plays to a strength of the Pack-Line, keeping the ball out of the lane, with post-to-post doubles forcing the ball out of the hands of post players, either leading to turnovers or at the least precious seconds ticking off the shot clock as the ball reverses.

Williams doesn’t have the luxury of a dominant post guy, so he just kept running the pick-and-rolls with his guards, and surprise, it worked.

The Hokies shot 9-of-18 on two-point shots in the second half, getting midrange jumpers, drives to the basket and rolls from his screeners. The action behind the play, on those that the Cavs were able to scramble to break down what was going on in the paint, created open looks that Tech’s perimeter guys knocked down, to the tune of 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range.

Virginia shot the lights out on its end, hitting 59.3 percent from the field in the second half, but the ‘Hoos were surprisingly out of their element, on the defensive, as it were.

Goliath was similarly vulnerable, but David had to be willing to go straight at that point of vulnerability to exploit it into an advantage.

David didn’t beat Goliath by fighting the fight that Goliath wanted his opponents to fight. His armor, like the Pack-Line, seemed impenetrable, to the point of forcing you to think of a workaround.

David, and Buzz Williams, found a way in by pushing themselves through the front door.

This is twice in three games that Buzz has forced Tony to play the game on his terms.

Who has whose number again, then?

– Column by Chris Graham


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