Inside the Numbers: UVA doesn’t always control tempo in March

virginia uvaIf it felt like UVA played a faster pace in its first-round NCAA Tournament win over UNC-Wilmington, yeah.

The Cavs had 65 offensive possessions in the game, roughly six above their season average.

Only once this season did Virginia have more possessions in a 40-minute game: the 90-34 win over Grambling State way back on Nov. 22.

Of note: it seems that maybe UVA can get sped up at least a little in postseason play.

Three NCAA Tournament games last year played at similar or faster paces than the UNC-W game. Virginia, in its second-round 77-69 win over Butler, had 64 possessions. The Cavs had 69 possessions in the 84-71 win over Iowa State in the Sweet 16, then another 64 in the 68-62 loss to Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

The other relatively fast-tempo games for Virginia in 2015-2016 were the 68-possession game in a 73-68 loss at George Washington and the 66-possession games against Florida State (in a 69-62 loss) and North Carolina (in a 79-75 win).

Going back to 2014-2015, there was a 67-possession game against UNC in the ACC Tournament semifinals, a 71-67 UVA loss, and a 65-possession game against Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a 79-67 win.

The only other game all season approaching that pace was the season-opening 79-51 win at JMU, in which the Cavs had 67 possessions.

One more step back, to the seminal 2013-2014 season, the beginning of the return to prominence for UVA basketball.

The second-round 78-60 NCAA Tournament win over Memphis saw Virginia register 66 possessions.

Three other Virginia games that season (one an OT game) had 66 possessions, another was at 68, with a season-high 69, in an early-season 59-56 loss to VCU.

Doing some quick math: that’s seven postseason games over the past four seasons (of a total of 20) with UVA at or above 64 possessions, of a total of 29 games over the past four seasons (from among 115 non-OT games) that had UVA at or above 64 possessions.

More quick math: 35 percent of the Cavs’ postseason games play at that faster pace, to 25 percent of the regular-season games.

Not a huge deviation, but still a deviation worth noting, as Virginia preps to play a team in Florida that plays at a tempo that averages roughly nine possessions per game more than the Cavs played at this year.

The assumption by UVA hoops observers is that Tony Bennett always wins battles over control of tempo, but as this analysis demonstrates, that’s not necessarily the case in March.

Column by Chris Graham

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