If winning is the ultimate deodorant, losing can be a helpful disinfectant. Second-ranked Virginia has a lot of cleaning to do after its 61-60 overtime loss to Virginia Tech, starting with how coach Tony Bennett divvies up the playing time.
Saturday night, Bennett gave Kyle Guy 45 minutes, Ty Jerome 43 and Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins 39, noticeably using just one bench guard, Nigel Johnson, for just five minutes, all in the first half.
Guy has played 197 of a possible 205 minutes over Virginia’s last five games, and seeing that number, you shouldn’t be surprised to see his effectiveness diminishing over that stretch.
Guy has shot just 33.7 percent from the field (30-of-89) over that span, and just 29.2 percent (14-of-48) from three-point range.
Jerome’s minutes have been a little better managed – he’s played 179 minutes over the last five, still an uncomfortable 35.8 minutes per game, and, like Guy, Jerome hasn’t been as effective as you’d come to expect, shooting 40 percent from the floor (24-of-60) and 30 percent from three-land (9-of-30).
Hall has played 174 minutes over the last five, 34.8 minutes per game, his minutes down a bit from the others perhaps because he has been dealing with the lingering effects from a flu bug.
Hall in that stretch has shot 42 percent from the floor (21-of-50) and 42.8 percent from three (12-of-28), but notably missed two key free throws, the back end of a 1-and-1 with 29 seconds left and Virginia up four, then the front end of a 1-and-1 with 13 seconds left and the lead at one, in the loss Saturday night.
Might that have been tired legs on Hall’s part? Might Guy going 5-of-21 from the floor been tired legs? The same for Jerome, who was 4-of-14, 1-of-10 from three?
Could the 38 hoists from three-point land Saturday be a function of legs too tired to carry guys into the lane in attacking mode, settling for passes around the perimeter and late-shot-clock threes?
All are fair questions, and it’s not the first time that you’d be asking them in regard to Bennett, and his efforts to squeeze minutes out of his rotation.
The 2011-2012 team, Bennett’s first Virginia NCAA team, lost four of its last five after a 21-6 start, including losses in the first round of the ACC and NCAA tournaments, as Bennett shortened the bench down the stretch and went with his starters for 80.3 percent of the available minutes.
The 2012-2013 team lost five of eight at the end of the regular season and a first-round loss in the ACC Tournament to miss out on what seemed to be a sure NCAA bid, going with his starters for 78.1 percent of the minutes over that stretch.
The 2014-2015 team that started 28-1 and lost three of its last five, including a second-round NCAA Tournament loss, went with the starters for 76.2 percent of their minutes in that closing stretch.
The best performing Virginia teams under Bennett, for comparison: first, the 2013-2014 group that won the ACC Tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen, got 70.9 percent of its minutes from its starters over the course of the season, a number that stayed consistent in March, with Bennett using his starters for 72 percent of minutes in the ACC and NCAA tourneys.
Then, the 2015-2016 team, that reached the Elite Eight, got 68.2 percent of its minutes season-long from its starters, ratcheting up slightly to 72.1 percent in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Back to the 2017-2018 team, now: for the season, the starters are getting 70.1 percent of the minutes, in line with the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 teams. But the trend is toward increased reliance on the starters of late, with the starters getting 78.2 percent of the minutes over the past five.
The numbers are more pronounced when looking at the backcourt. Virginia’s three-man starting backcourt has played 89.4 percent of the available minutes over the past five games.
Which is simply not sustainable, obviously. Virginia hangs its hat on how much harder it plays than its opponents, never taking off a possession on either end of the floor, 120 total possessions a game, combined, on offense and defense.
There’s no hiding in a 2-3 zone, like the kids at Duke and Syracuse can do. There’s no standing in the corner on a possession here and there on offense while somebody runs iso on the other side of the floor. Mover-blocker doesn’t work that way.
If you’re playing 40 (or 45) minutes at Virginia, you’re playing man defense, doubling on pick-and-rolls, helping on post-doubles, sliding over when somebody else doubles, then on the other end constantly setting screens, running off screens, curling and flaring, rolling to the basket.
It’s continuous, as Bennett likes to say.
I’m a marathon runner, so I know fitness. Even now, in the offseason, I do three 10-mile training runs a week.
But I only do three, because I need a break. Run too much trying to get in even better shape, and my mile splits start dropping off, my knees start to ache, my calf muscles start to tear.
When that happens, I need to dial it back, to be able to run better, as counterintuitive as it might seem at first, that running less can actually help me run better.
Bennett needs to dial it back a bit, particularly with Guy, Jerome and Hall, rely a bit more on Johnson, freshman Marco Anthony, maybe throw De’Andre Hunter, who has been getting the bulk of his minutes at the four, into the backcourt mix.
If he isn’t able to do that, for whatever reason, this Virginia team is more likely to see its season end like the 2014-2015 team, which is to say, earlier than it should, than it will be in San Antonio.
Story by Chris Graham