Home Bennett on offense struggles: ‘You just keep working, and, you know, that’s the extent of it’

Bennett on offense struggles: ‘You just keep working, and, you know, that’s the extent of it’

Chris Graham
tony bennett
Photo: UVA Athletics

If you’re a Virginia fan hoping to hear that Tony Bennett is signaling that he might be making some tweaks to get his team’s offense out of its recent downturn, you’re bound to be disappointed at what I’m about to write.

“We haven’t shot the ball great. Some guys have shot it well, but that hasn’t been a strength of ours this year. So, you know, yeah, you do different things, you get your shots, and you just keep working, and, you know, that’s the extent of it,” Bennett told reporters on his weekly teleconference on Monday.

Here we go.

Virginia has gotten out of the 40s in its last three games, somehow winning one of those three – a 49-47 win over Wake Forest back on Feb. 17.

The 54-44 loss to UNC this past Saturday felt like opportunity lost.

Carolina’s 54 points was by far its season-low; for a frame of reference, senior guard RJ Davis, who was 1-of-14 from the floor in the win over Virginia, had 42 tonight in the Heels’ 75-71 win over Miami, going 14-of-22 from the floor overall, and 7-of-11 from three.

So, Virginia had one of its better defensive efforts of the season, but couldn’t buy a bucket in a 16-point first half, connecting on just 5-of-30 from the floor, digging itself a hole that it wouldn’t be able to bail itself out of.

Opponents have clearly got a book on how to defend this Virginia team in Bennett’s favored mover-blocker/sides offense, which relies on bigs setting screens, and guards getting off those screens to touch the paint, get open looks on midrange and three-point jumpers, or create for their teammates.

The hindrance for Bennett trying to get consistent points out of his mover-blocker/sides is that his personnel just doesn’t fit well in the offense.

Andrew Rohde, a 17-point-per-game scorer last year at St. Thomas, hasn’t panned out, averaging 4.5 points per game on the season, and just 3.3 points per game, with four goose eggs, in his last 15 games.

Then there’s Ryan Dunn, a projected first-round pick, who was averaging in double-digits until he hit the wall a month ago, and has seen his productivity decline to 4.0 points per game over his last eight games.

Defenders are zoning off them and making it hard for Reece Beekman to touch the paint, and for sharpshooters Isaac McKneely and Jake Groves to get looks.

Bennett did implement a nice workaround to the defensive approach used by Florida State that fueled an 80-point outburst in a win back on Feb. 10, throwing out the mover-blocker/sides offense for four- and five-out sets featuring ball screens and slip screens to counter Leonard Hamilton’s strategy of switching on screens that opened up the middle of the floor for dribble-drives and cuts.

What worked there has been left on the shelf to collect dust since.

It’s almost as if Bennett wants to prove that he can fit the square pegs he has on his roster this year into the round hole of his favored offensive system, the results be damned.

Don’t believe me?

“I think, you know, it still comes down to, are you getting quality looks? We talked about that after the game. Are guys getting the reps? And of course, you talk about a clean mind, or a clearer mind, when you shoot, and taking good shots, and, you know, not worrying too much about a miss and moving forward,” Bennett told reporters today.

Translation: it’s not the offense; it’s all up here (figuratively pointing to the head).

“That said, I don’t have any, you know, meditation or anything like that, that we do, maybe we should, but again, it’s, you know, the numbers are kind of bearing out with some things, and as you know, they’re making it challenging on some of our shooters, so you just keep working for that, and the other guys keep finding ways,” Bennett said.

Translation: just run it harder.

It might work.

Probably won’t, but it might.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].