Home Mailbag: Should Virginia try to speed the game up to try to get more offense?

Mailbag: Should Virginia try to speed the game up to try to get more offense?

Chris Graham
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Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

I enjoy your honesty in your columns and comments. Especially about football. I have a question for you. Since UVA has issues shooting, and have many players who are more athletic than they are shooters, why won’t TB consider running more to take advantage of those athletes, and create some easier shots. It seems like always going against your opponent set defense only compounds the offensive limitations. Just want to hear your thoughts.


Bill hits on a topic that I’ve written about recently, from a different angle.

He’s right, of course, that teams get higher-percentage shots in transition relative to what they get in their halfcourt offense.

The inverse of that would be true as well – that your defense gives up better shots in transition relative to what you give up in your halfcourt defense.

Let’s take a deep dive into the numbers to see how this all plays out.

First, these are the median numbers for D1 transition offense, per Synergy Sports data for the 2023-2024 season:

  • transition field goal percentage: 51.3%
  • transition points per possession: 1.054

Here are the median D1 numbers for halfcourt offense:

  • halfcourt field goal percentage: 43.1%
  • halfcourt points per possession: 0.905

So, yep, we see here, clearly, teams shoot better and score more in transition, which just confirms what you’d expect.

You’re going to get better shots in transition just because defenses in transition are going to be out of position.

You’d expect to be able to attack the paint more easily, and get more open looks on the perimeter, in transition.

Also, because you’re attacking earlier in the shot clock, you don’t have to take a shot if it isn’t there; if a shot isn’t there for the taking, you can just reset.

Next, let’s look at Virginia’s offensive numbers in transition.

  • transition field goal percentage: 50.8%
  • transition points per possession: 1.043

OK, so, below the medians nationally.

And now, halfcourt offense numbers for Virginia.

  • halfcourt field goal percentage: 43.2%
  • halfcourt points per possession: 0.905

Right at the medians there.

I think it would help us here to look at how Virginia does defensively in transition and in the halfcourt.

My thinking is: Tony Bennett’s approach to the game of basketball is to limit transition opportunities for opponents by running a methodical offense, not having his guys crash the offensive boards in favor of getting back on D, and making the other side getting more of its offense in the halfcourt than it may prefer to.

Here’s Virginia in transition defense:

  • transition field goal percentage: 47.9%
  • transition points per possession: 1.021
  • percentage of opponent possessions: 9.6% (median: 14.6%)

What we see here: teams shoot at a lower percentage, score at a lower rate and get fewer possessions in transition against Virginia than against the median D1 team.

Here’s Virginia in halfcourt defense:

  • halfcourt field goal percentage: 38.3%
  • halfcourt points per possession: 0.804
  • percentage of opponent possessions: 90.4% (median: 85.4%)

Opponents shoot at a 5 percent lower clip in halfcourt against Virginia than against the median D1 team, and score 0.101 fewer points per possession, and do so on more possessions per game than they would against the median D1 team.

You may see why Tony does what he does at this stage.

Virginia opponents are getting 3.015 fewer transition opportunities per game relative to the median, which translates, based on Virginia’s defensive numbers in the halfcourt and transition, to 0.65 points per game saved on the Virginia side.

For this to be true apples-to-apples, I need to run the numbers for how many more points Virginia would score if it also bumped up its transition possessions to the median.

Virginia, per the Synergy Sports data, uses 8.5 percent of its possessions in transition.

The national median is 15.4 percent.

That would translate, for Virginia, in a 60-possession game, to reworking 4.2 halfcourt possessions into transition possessions.

The benefit to pushing for more transition, based on Virginia’s offense numbers this season: 0.58 points per game in Virginia’s favor.

We’re talking hundredths of a decimal point here, but the numbers suggest, there’s a case for Tony playing the way he plays, with the difference only becoming more pronounced if you account for the increased number of possessions per game that would result from a faster pace.

I know we all want to see more offense out of this group, but I don’t think, just based on this exercise, that Virginia is necessarily better off pushing tempo.

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].