Virginia’s defense has been incredible with Tony Bennett at the helm. In the last 5 years they have been a top 5 defense 4 times, according to KenPom. This year is historically elite – the best defense in the last 15+ years.
Yes, better than Kentucky’s 2015 defense with Towns and Cauley-Stein that won 38 games.
The graphic below shows their defensive dominance compared to the top defenses over the last 15 seasons.
It’s not close.
To beat Virginia, opponents should plan to win a game in the 60s by finding ways to limit Virginia’s offensive production. They are too good on the defensive end. The 2nd best offensive team in the country, Duke, struggled to get to 63 points on Saturday.
In their one loss this year and their last 4 NCAA tournament losses they have surrendered less than 69 points.
Many fans and analysts claim they are a poor offensive team as they mistakenly equate total points to offensive efficiency. According to KenPom, the Cavaliers have the slowest offensive pace in D1 causing their point totals to sit below the D1 average. After adjusting for pace, they are 38th in offensive efficiency.
Tony Bennett adopted the mover-blocker offense his father ran at Washington State. It's a role-based motion offense predicated on reading the defense.
There are 3 “movers”, who are responsible for most of the scoring and ball handling. The 2 “blockers” set screens for the “movers” to get them free for open shots. The “movers” have freedom in coming off of screens as long as they maintain the top-side-side alignment.
They have the freedom to set flare screens, pin-downs, and curl or fade off baseline screens. All 3 “movers” are making cuts throughout the possession and once one defender makes a wrong read they capitalize on the open shot.
Two of their ‘movers” – Kyle Guy and Devon Hall – shoot 15% and 21% better from 3 when shooting off of a screen. Their 3rd starting “mover”, Ty Jerome, shoots 42% in both situations.
Having three guards shooting at these rates from 3 when coming off of screens causes nightmares for man-to-man defenses. On Saturday, Duke’s guards started to overplay the “movers” in fear that they would get free for open 3s.
Virginia noticed so they back cut it. 3 times.
The offense works so well because most college teams don’t have 3 players who can each make 4-6 correct reads each possession.
Finally, Duke went to their 2-3 zone defense in the second half. It worked.
The Cavaliers ran a zone offense and settled for contested jumpers allowing Duke to climb back from a 10-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the second half.
Virginia used Isaiah Wilkins, a “blocker” in the mover-blocker offense, to run the middle of the zone. Wilkins struggled to make the elbow jumper Duke was giving him and it led to multiple empty possessions.
Zone defense seemed like the best way to beat Virginia, until they put De’Andre Hunter in the middle for Wilkins. Hunter, also a “blocker”, changed the game with the plays he made from the middle of the zone. He hit the elbow jumper, attacked the rim, and made great passes to open shooters.
The graphic below shows Virginia’s offensive efficiency by defensive scheme in the second half. They were much more efficient with Hunter, a red-shirt freshman, running the middle than when they used Wilkins or one of their guards to fill the spot.
It’s no surprise that Hunter worked better in the middle than Wilkins – he’s been a more efficient scorer this season. According to Synergy, his offensive scoring efficiency is 1.04 PPP – 12 points/100 possession better than Wilkins.
“De'Andre is so skilled offensively - he has a great mid-range game and he always did a good job of taking what the defense gave him,” said Ryan Tozer, Hunter’s head coach at Friend’s Central High School in Philadelphia.
He added, “He’s a mismatch for opposing teams. He was so humble, I don't think he realized just how good he was early in his high school career.”
College basketball meet Tony Bennett’s x-factor – De’Andre Hunter. Teams will need a game-plan for Hunter if they want to go zone against the Cavaliers. This is Bennett’s best team…and to think they weren’t even ranked in the pre-season AP Top 25.
*All Data is through Tuesday night 1/30/2018.