Home Inside the Numbers: Tony Bennett is sacrificing defense for offense? What?
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Inside the Numbers: Tony Bennett is sacrificing defense for offense? What?

Chris Graham
jake groves
Jake Groves. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

I’ve written and talked a lot lately about how Virginia coach Tony Bennett seems to be more willing these days to sacrifice on defense to try to get more offense on the floor.

I ran some numbers, with the help of EvanMiya.com, to test the hypothesis.

Turns out, the numbers bear us out on the observation.

Per EvanMiya.com, Bennett’s most frequent five-man lineup – Reece Beekman-Andrew Rohde-Isaac McKneely-Ryan Dunn-Jake Groves – averages 1.348 points per possession.

The second most frequent five-man lineup – Beekman-Rohde-McKneely-Dunn-Blake Buchanan – averages 1.032 points per possession.

The difference: 0.316 points per possession.

This lineup is on the floor for around 20 possessions a game, per data from KenPom.com.

So, you get 6.32 more points over those 20 possessions with Groves being out there in the place of Buchahan.

I’m not telling the whole story yet here, though.

The lineup with Buchanan is Bennett’s best on the defensive end, allowing 0.629 PPP, to the 0.928 PPP allowed by the lineup with Groves at the five.

The difference: 0.299 points per possession.

Give Buchanan the 20 possessions going right now to Groves, and you save 5.98 points.

The difference is miniscule, but it’s in favor of Bennett going with Groves (7.8 ppg, 2.4 rebounds/g, 0.1 blocks/g, 50% FG, 42.3% 3FG in 19.8 minutes/g) over Buchanan (5.2 ppg, 3.6 rebounds/g, 1.1 blocks/g, 45.2% FG, no three-point attempts) as the starter at the five now, after going back-and-forth on who to start early in the season.

Per the EvanMiya.com numbers, the Groves-based five-man lineup has been on the floor for nearly twice the number of possessions (124-63) as the Buchanan-based lineup.

An additional look at the EvanMiya.com numbers reveals that three of the top four five-man lineups in terms of offensive efficiency (minimum 10 possessions) have Groves at the five spot.

On the other side, the four most offensively-challenged lineups all have Buchanan at the five.

Where this is going is evident when you look at the minutes for Groves and Buchanan in Virginia’s last three games against Power 5 opponents – West Virginia, Texas A&M and Syracuse.

Groves averaged 25.3 minutes per game in those three; Buchanan is at 11.0 minutes per game over the three.

This isn’t your father’s Tony Bennett Basketball we’re talking about here.

This Tony Bennett has a choice between one unit that’s better on offense, a second that is better on defense, and he’s going with more offense.

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].