Home Mailbag: Reader puts Tony Bennett, his offense, defense schemes, on blast

Mailbag: Reader puts Tony Bennett, his offense, defense schemes, on blast

Chris Graham
uva bennett staff
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

I really appreciate your articles on UVA and really everything you write, and that’s not a kiss up, just a fact. I appreciate your candor (I’m not sure it doesn’t have a filter on it), but Tony Bennett is dead wrong, as is human, on his perception of the talents of his current team.

I believe we are about the same age, and I grew up an avid Maryland fan, and graduated from the University of Maryland undergrad and UVA for my master’s. I really believe Tony is a great person, as everyone is quick to point out, along with his accomplishments with the program. Unfortunately, I don’t believe he is a “great’ gametime coach, however.

Gary Williams was a much better gametime coach, and did it with less talent. I would go so far as saying without the Big Three in 2019, he would continue to knock at the door. Those guys single-handledly won those games, and it has little if nothing to do with coaching (in game).

Tony continues to hold the torch that his father created, and it has been successful, but also really, really, really bad. As I stated in previous comments, coaches unwilling to mold defense and offense to the talents of the teams/players is a thing of the past with the new NIL and transfer portal.

That’s not suggesting revamping the offense or defense, but making crucial tweaks to the betterment of talent.

Everyone has caught on to the Pack Line (it was an adjustment for years), but unless Tony has a solid three that create their own points, his live-or-die without changing mentality will die over the next few seasons, or he’ll step away and hand the program over to Ron Sanchez. Hope I’m wrong.

– D

Gary Williams had decent talent for that two-year run of Final Fours and the national title. He should have had two national titles out of that group, but that’s outside looking in.

That team had Juan Dixon and Steve Blake as the engines. That’s high-level.

I didn’t watch Maryland closely during that era to be able to judge Williams as an in-game coach.

I sat behind the scorer’s table at the 2007 ACC Tournament down in Tampa (in the overflow media section).

Williams was the nicest, most grandfatherly-type guy after games in the media room. On the sidelines, literally every other word out of his mouth was a version of the f— bomb.

It was so much that it was comical.

Tony deserves some credit here – the offense that the team ran last night is a departure from what he has always done. I was told on Tuesday that the tweaks that we saw (more ball screens, post-ups, inserting Jake Groves in the lineup in place of Andrew Rohde) were coming, so, there’s an in-season adjustment (he gave the team Sunday off, so, they implemented a new offense on Monday, traveling on Tuesday).

He could have made those changes a few games earlier. That would be the criticism that I’d offer (and have offered).

I don’t know that I agree – at all – with the idea that “everyone has caught on to the pack line.”

Virginia is ninth in defensive efficiency this year in KenPom.

The observation about needing a Big Three is also not at all unique to Tony Bennett or to Virginia. No matter how you are, you need guys who can create and guys who can finish.

The 2019 team had Ty Jerome creating, and Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter as guys who could knock down shots.

No one would argue that Guy and Hunter were creators. Guy is a catch-and-shoot guy, who unfortunately for him topped out at 6’2”, which is why he didn’t catch on in the NBA; and Hunter is a 6’7” 3-and-D guy, which is why he makes $20 million per in the NBA.

Tony’s approach to playing basketball is his, and it works. He wants to limit opponent buckets in transition, and is willing to sacrifice his own team’s buckets in transition as the trade-off.

As long as his team is as efficient in halfcourt defense as it is, the numbers add up for him to do what he does.

The tweaks to the offense that we saw last night fit within that approach.

Would I prefer, just aesthetically, to watch (and cover) a team that is more wide open? Sure.

Do I have a problem covering a team that won a national championship five years ago, and has won the ACC regular season six of the last 10 years?


– Chris

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].