Virginia coach Tony Bennett has made significant changes to the offense since returning from that ugly 1-1 week down in South Florida, using more triangle looks in the halfcourt, and encouraging his guys to take open looks in transition.
That last part, the increase in transition offense, is the eye-opener.
“Some guys we talked about have a green light if it’s a rhythm push transition three, some guys have a yellow light, some guys have a bright red light, and that means don’t shoot a transition three, but of course, if you can get ahead and get to the lane and have a good layup, or if obviously we force a turnover or a long rebound, take advantage of it,” Bennett explained his thinking on that part of the offense to reporters after Virginia’s 77-47 win over North Carolina Central on Tuesday.
Virginia had, gasp!, 25 transition points in the win over NCCU, after putting up 15 in the 84-62 win over Syracuse in the ACC opener on Dec. 2.
Chris Graham on UVA Basketball
Forty points in transition in two games; in the season’s first seven games, Virginia had a total of 36 transition points.
Per data from Synergy Sports, Virginia is among the top third of teams in the country in offensive efficiency in transition, averaging 1.118 points per transition possession, shooting 51.9 percent, with an effective field goal rate, which factors in threes and free throws, at 58.3 percent.
In its past two games, Virginia scored 40 transition points on 26 possessions, 1.538 points per possession, no doubt a key factor in the overall offensive efficiency going way, way up – to 1.258 points per possession over the last two.
What Bennett would be most pleased with is that the increased push for transition buckets hasn’t pushed the overall tempo numbers that much – Virginia is averaging 64.0 possessions per over the past two games, a slight bump up from the season average of 61.6, but some of that is attributable to the extra garbage time in two blowout wins.
Transition buckets are important for any team – you’re going to get more good looks, both at the rim and on the perimeter, when the opponent is still scrambling to get into position on the defensive end.
Bennett, traditionally, has erred on the side of caution, limiting his own team’s runouts to try to prevent opponents from being able to respond in kind – forcing them to have to use as many of their offensive possessions as possible up against Bennett’s Pack Line.
It’s understandable, the thinking there, but then, this year’s roster has guys like Reece Beekman, Dante Harris and Elijah Gertrude who can push it, an NBA-level finisher in Ryan Dunn, and a sharpshooter in Isaac McKneely who can take advantage of open looks on the perimeter.
To that point, McKneely has hit five transition threes in Virginia’s last three games, dating back to the 59-47 win over then-#14 Texas A&M last week.
McKneely is 6-of-9 in transition this season, all on threes.
More of that, please, right?
“Any way we can get points when we’re not scoring,” Bennett said. “We don’t pound it inside and have post guys that go to work. We use more cuts into the post. Some of our smaller guys are a little more effective on the low post or even that off the lane, we call it the playmaker spot, and so obviously you get guys in there and then have some action going on while the ball’s in their hands.”
That last bit there is Bennett talking about the tweak since the 65-41 loss to Wisconsin back before Thanksgiving that has had him using more triangle-offense sets with the guards in the three spots.
Redshirt freshman Leon Bond III has proven to be particularly adept in the triangle. The 6’5” Bond is deadly on cuts – he’s 9-of-13 (69.2%) on short jumpers off cuts this season, per Synergy.
“I love it. I just like coming off the screens,” Bond said after the win over NCCU, in which he scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench. “I just want to downscreen to shoot a midrange fade-in jumper. That’s all I want, really. So, when we run that, that’s all I’m looking for. And it gets other guys open and everything, and I mean, it’s really hard to guard, and it gets other guys open and everything, and I mean it’s really hard to guard. You switch it, we slip it, you stay and somebody’s going to be wide open, so I love it.”