Tony Bennett is facing an alchemy problem not unlike the one he faced back in 2013-2014.
That team, like his current team, had a lot of dudes – future NBA stars Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, who would declare for the NBA Draft in 2015 and have his name called in the first round.
Anthony Gill, from that team, is in the NBA. London Perrantes is in the G League.
Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins and Mike Tobey are putting up big numbers in Europe.
That’s eight guys, who, seven years later, are all getting paid to play basketball.
The issue when you have that much talent isn’t having talent on the floor; it’s in the combinations.
The 2013-2014 team would go on to win the ACC regular season with a 16-2 record, bring home the program’s first ACC Tournament trophy in 38 years, earn a #1 national seed, advance to the Sweet Sixteen, lose that one by two to Michigan State in a heartbreaker.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Those ‘Hoos started 9-4, with home losses to VCU and Wisconsin, a road loss at Green Bay, which would go on to lose in the first round of the NIT, and then, we all remember, and hold in high esteem, the 87-52 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 30, 2013.
Painful, that one, but it was what happened after that set the tone for everything else.
Bennett was convinced by his guys to go with Perrantes in his starting five, meaning Anderson would come off the bench.
Outside looking in, that decision makes no sense. No one, in any frame of right mind, takes Perrantes over Anderson, straight up, talent-wise.
No aspersions on Perrantes, but Anderson – can jump through the roof, is preternaturally prolific from three.
Virginia, 9-4 when Bennett made the switch, went 21-3 the rest of the way – the losses being a four-point setback at Duke, a six-point OT loss at Maryland, the loss to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen.
The lesson: your best lineup isn’t necessarily the best sum of talent.
This is the conundrum currently facing Bennett, because his best sum of talent is 15-6, and on a three-game losing streak.
He might be tipping his hand in terms of where things might be going from here. In Wednesday’s 68-61 loss to N.C. State, Bennett started the second half with plodding 7’1” Francisco Caffaro at the four, pushing the dynamic 6’9” three, Trey Murphy III, to the bench.
I hate to concede this point, but Caffaro, order of magnitude more awkward than the OG big plodder, Jack Salt, was the only guy who got minutes Wednesday night with a positive plus-minus.
Caffaro, who I’ve referred to, off and on, as Jack Salt 2.0, would have a hard time getting one in a one-on-one with Murphy, but that matters not – because what he does, what Salt did, what Isaiah Wilkins did, what Darion Atkins and Akil Mitchell did, isn’t something that measures in box scores.
Box scores don’t record hard screens, boxouts that allow other guys to get rebounds, loose balls.
It’s the same as how box scores several years ago didn’t accurately measure what giving more minutes to Perrantes meant for the flow of that Virginia team.
There’s only one basketball. It would seem to be intuitive to try to have five guys in the lineup who can score it as much as possible, but in practice, you need guys who aren’t above mopping the floor, cleaning toilets, taking out the trash.
“How does this team play when the shots are not going in? We haven’t become gritty enough or tough enough to lean on our defense to hold us in there,” Bennett said after the loss to N.C. State.
Coach signaled where his head is right now when he went with Caffaro in place of Murphy to open the second half.
Bennett also gave more minutes to 6’8” Isaiah Wilkins clone Justin McKoy – 16, for a guy who had gotten 16 minutes all month heading into Wednesday.
Given how things are going right now, my thinking is, you might be better off going with McKoy at the three at the tip, to get defense and energy on the floor for the first four to five minutes, then come back with Murphy replacing either McKoy, Hauser or Huff as the linchpin of the second unit.
Anderson, back in 2014, accepted his fate as sixth man, and went on to be named the ACC Sixth Man of the Year.
Again, this is just my thinking, but 20 minutes of Murphy as Microwave (nod to Vinnie Johnson), and 20 minutes of McKoy as Dennis Rodman, that’s better than 36 minutes of Murphy standing at the three-point line shooting the ball twice.
Can we get this group’s Harris to meet with Bennett to get things moving in this direction?
Maybe not, because: COVID.
But, we have Zoom.
I nominate Hauser to send out the email invites.
This team has too much talent to be 15-6.
That 2013-2014 team was 14-5 on its way to something special.
Story by Chris Graham