Home Rumor mill: Did Tony Bennett lean on Ron Sanchez to come up with UVA offense fix?

Rumor mill: Did Tony Bennett lean on Ron Sanchez to come up with UVA offense fix?

Chris Graham
ron sanchez
Photo: UVA Athletics

The word I’m getting is that Virginia coach Tony Bennett leaned on the advice of his top assistant, Ron Sanchez, for the tweaks to the offense that we saw rolled out for last night’s game at Boston College, a 72-68 win for the ‘Hoos.

It was a quick installation. Bennett told reporters on his weekly ACC teleconference on Monday that he gave his team the day off on Sunday, so he had Monday, basically, to do the bulk of the work looking ahead to the BC game on Wednesday.

Sanchez is a long-time Bennett assistant, who, like the head coach, came from the Dick Bennett coaching tree, where the offense is built on a foundation of mover-blocker/sides, and the defense is Pack Line.

We haven’t seen a tremendous amount of innovation over the years from Bennett on either end of the floor, though, you may remember, Bennett, with his 2020-2021 roster, which had as its Big Three offensive weapons a trio of bigs who can shoot from three – 6’8” Sam Houser, 6’9” Trey Murphy and 7’1” Jay Huff – did make some pretty substantial tweaks to get those guys looks from the perimeter.

And then last year, there was some usage of sets with ball screens and slip screens with Ben Vander Plas and Kadin Shedrick to create dribble-drive opportunities for Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark, taking advantage of BVP’s ability to shoot from the perimeter as a stretch five.

This season, Bennett and his staff have struggled to figure out how to get points from a rotation with parts that don’t necessarily fit to play both the Pack Line that Bennett builds everything around and also score consistently.

The best offensive lineup would have Beekman, Isaac McKneely and Jake Groves as the focal points, but Groves, a 6’9” shooter, would either have to replace 6’8” defensive whiz Ryan Dunn or play at center ahead of Jordan Minor or Blake Buchanan, and Bennett tried that for the first two months of the season, and it just didn’t work on the defensive end, and exposed Virginia on the boards.

The trick would seem to be figuring out a way to play Groves, Dunn and one of the centers at the same time.

The workaround, apparently to be credited to Sanchez, is to have Dunn and Groves both at forward, which, to get there, means, less mover-blocker, which is based around having three guards, the movers, and two forwards, the blockers.

Bennett, talking with reporters after last night’s win at BC, didn’t talk about whose idea it was to go this route, but basically confirmed the thinking.

“I just thought, let’s get a little more shooting on the floor, let’s move Ryan around a little bit on the perimeter, because they’ve really been zoning up off him, so move him,” Bennett said.

The issue for Dunn is, to put it bluntly, he’s not a perimeter shooter – he’s 10-of-43, 23.3 percent, on jumpers this season – and he’s not a guy who beats defenders off the dribble.

His baskets come off cuts to the basket (33-of-42 FG, 78.2 percent), transition (20-of-26, 76.9 percent) and offensive rebounds (15-of-30, 50.0 percent).

Seventy-eight of Dunn’s 99 made field goals this season are layups, dunks and tip-ins.

This is the guy that Sanchez and Bennett are playing on the perimeter.

“I said, Ryan, you got a good shot, take it, you know, I didn’t want him to not, you gotta look to be a threat in different ways,” Bennett said.

Dunn did take two rather awkward-looking threes last night; both were airballs, though as fortune would have it, Virginia got the offensive boards off both, and got a Dunn free throw off the first, and a Groves layup off the second.

“I just wanted to get a look,” Bennett said. “And again, it wasn’t, you know, it’s not necessarily a demotion, just we changed things up. Look at how (Andrew) Rohde played and responded, and so again, I liked what I saw, and I’m glad those guys got going when we needed it.”

That’s typical Bennett there, talking down the x’s and o’s, trying to put the emphasis on the execution, but the real key to what we saw last night was, BC had to expand its thinking on what it needed to do defensively, and going forward, future opponents will have to do so as well.

“I just think a few shots went down. You know, Jake stretched the floor. I thought Andrew Rohde really gave us a great lift, and then obviously Reece was attacking, and then, you know, we had some stuffs and rolls at the rim, and just, if those shots go down, and then they have to make some decisions, how are we going to guard the ball screen, how are we going to go to the off-ball screens, guys can separate. If they switched, then we were attacking some of the mismatches,” Bennett said.

It’s just more weapons in the arsenal.

I’ve been writing for a while about how Bennett has weapons at his disposal – Beekman is an NBA talent at the point; McKneely and Groves are knockdown shooters; Dunn, based on his numbers, is a lethal finisher.

On that point: Dunn is shooting 67.2 percent on his shots at the rim, which ranks in the top 15 percent nationally.

More touches in the paint for Beekman means more clean looks from the perimeter for McKneely and Groves, and more rim runs for Dunn.

Virginia was playing a lot of 2-on-5 in its mover-blocker sets of late.

The ball screens, slip screens and kickouts to shooters stationed in the corners gets us closer to 5-on-5 ball on the offensive end.

If that’s Sanchez, as I’m being told, or whoever it is scheming it up, let’s build on this moving forward.

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].