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Virginia’s defensive game plan worked to perfection Saturday night in JPJ

uva post double unc
Sam Hauser and Jay Huff double-team UNC freshman Walker Kessler in the post. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

The narrative a week ago was: this Virginia team will have to win because of what it does on offense, because its defense isn’t Tony Bennett vintage.

What Virginia did to North Carolina Saturday night was Tony Bennett vintage.

UNC, averaging 74.1 points per game, having just scored 91 in a win at Duke last Saturday, once again couldn’t get to 50 in a loss to UVA in JPJ.

That’s four straight years that the run-and-gun Tar Heels were held below 50 in a loss in Charlottesville, a stretch that dates to 2017 – when a Carolina team on its way to a national title scored 43 in a double-digit loss.

This UNC team is not on its way to a national title. The 60-48 loss on Saturday night in icy Central Virginia drops North Carolina to 12-7, with an NCAA Tournament profile that screams bubble – an NET of 54, KPI of 59, the saving graces being ESPN BPI and Sagarin ratings in the 30s, but right now, it’s a make-or-miss proposition.

That being the case, there’s a ton of talent on this Carolina team, unfortunately for coach Roy Williams, most of it being in the post, with guys who can’t get their own shots.

His point guard, Caleb Love, a five-star freshman, is clearly in over his head – shooting in the low 30s, with a turnover rate just under 25 percent, which, yeah, yikes, and then to top matters off, he puts up nearly 12 shots a game, leading the team.

It’s clear he’s never meshed with the preseason ACC Player of the Year, Garrison Brooks, who is having a massive down year, or really anybody else, in terms of offensive flow.

So, point guard play, suspect. And then, there’s the lack of outside shooting. There’s basically one guy, 6’5” freshman Kerwin Walton, to worry about – Walton was shooting 45.7 percent from three coming in.

The game plan, then, for Virginia: double the ball out of the hands of Brooks, fellow bigs Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe, make Love try to create, make Carolina beat you from the perimeter.

That’s exactly what UVA did Saturday night.

Carolina, following the script laid down by Dean Smith in the 1960s, worked the ball inside, to the point that 28 of its 58 field goal attempts, just under 50 percent, were at the rim – layups or dunks.

They made 13 of those shots – 46.4 percent.

This from a team shooting 60.4 percent at the rim on the season coming in, per

Virginia blocked five UNC shots – four coming from Jay Huff – but obviously there was pressure even when the shots weren’t getting swatted away.

Tony Bennett, following a script from his father, Dick, from Dick’s years coaching D3, utilized the post-to-post double early, often and otherwise.

Conventional post doubles use a guard. The Bennetts’ post doubles use the other post guy, to make it hard for the offensive post player to pass it out, and also entice the pass out to be a cross-court pass to the perimeter, which allows the help defense to retreat and take away the open jumper.

The post doubles Saturday night were as good as you’ve seen from a Bennett UVA team. The help from the guards on the back end took away rim runs, and UNC would only make two threes on the night – both by, you guessed it, Walton, neither coming from a post double.

One of his makes was on a mix-up on a switch, the other on a long rebound.

Brooks finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting. Bacot had seven on 3-of-7 shooting. Sharpe had six on 3-of-8 shooting.

The only effective big was freshman Walker Kessler, who had been the odd man out with the riches in talent in the post, averaging just 6.2 minutes per game coming in.

Kessler ended up being the leading scorer in baby blue on the night – with nine points in 12 minutes off the bench.

UNC had 12 offensive rebounds, but they resulted in just 13 second-chance points.

If you’re Bennett, you take that and run, given that Carolina ranks second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and gets so much of its offense from its work on the offensive boards.

The other key: limiting live-ball turnovers that would allow UNC to get out on fast breaks.

Carolina gets just under 20 percent of its offense from transition. It got six points in transition Saturday night.

That’s an offense helps the defense thing to the Bennett approach that doesn’t show up in box scores.

Limiting live-ball turnovers takes discipline on offense, in approaching the offensive boards – UVA often sends just one guy to the boards on the offensive end, prioritizing getting back on D, and allowing the guards to get ball pressure to slow the opposing point guard’s progress.

The game plan worked to perfection Saturday night in JPJ.

UNC shot 34.5 percent from the field, was 2-of-16 from three, couldn’t get a guy into double digits, couldn’t get to 50.

And now you have to say, this is a Virginia team that can win with its defense.

Because, keep in mind, this was the second game this week against an NCAA Tournament aspirant in which the opponent didn’t get to 50.

Yeah, forgot about that win at Georgia Tech, didn’t you?

That’s 97 points this week. A far cry from the 98 the ‘Hoos surrendered in 40 minutes to Gonzaga back around Christmas.

That one seems like a million years ago.

That was a different Virginia team.

Story by Chris Graham

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