Virginia Cavaliers: Bound to be in Close Games

By John Lloyd
Curtis Wilson- USA TODAY Sports

The catch-and-shoot offense is defined by “Live by the three, die by the three.” These kind of words are true in terms of Tony Bennett’s offense. Bennett is known for his collapsing half-man-half-zone defense (a matchup man-to-man zone) and has always struggled getting guys open looks underneath the basket. The Virginia Cavaliers are a perimeter-based team that has fans worried about their offensive production.

Joe Harris is the leader of this offense, without a doubt, but who can take up the slack if/when he’s struggling? Today, against Davidson, it was a duo of sophomores in center Mike Tobey and slashing guard Malcolm Brogdon. Davidson has struggled relatively since Steph Curry went off in the NCAA tournament and is now going off for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. Simply put, Davidson likes size and depth.

Going into halftime, the Cavaliers mustered only 29 points. They led by two, proving that the catch-and-shoot offense that Bennett runs is hit-or-miss. Tobey was the leading scorer at the half having 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but Harris needs to do something; he ended the game with zero points, something that cannot happen for the Cavs in the long run. Bennett changed his offense, and his defense for that matter, and pulled away from the Davidson Wildcats.

Davidson has a scorer in the making of their own: sophomore guard Ben Sullivan. Sullivan had 11 points and one assist through one half of play. However, in the second half, he was deemed useless as Bennett rotated his defense to cater to stopping the sophomore guard. Sullivan finished with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting (3-of-8 from three).

The Wildcats launch threes; at one point, they had shot 21 three-pointers on 35 attempts in the game. 60 percent of their shots came from behind the 3-point arc. 3-pointers are nice if you make them, but they make you look horrible if you miss them. Davidson finished 11-of-28 from behind the arc.

The ACC is a grit-and-grind conference this season with front-runner Duke at the top of the proverbial mountain. Virginia has a long way to go to catch up to the Blue Devils, but they will compete with every team in the conference.

Despite having 17 turnovers, the Cavaliers beat the Wildcats 70-57. Bennett’s offensive scheme today was better than it was against VCU, but VCU’s defense is smothering and forces you into bad shots. Virginia had good looks all day, which allowed them to win the battle on the glass and on the scoreboard as well.

The Cavaliers changed their offensive game plan against the Wildcats and went to big man Tobey, who finished with 18 points. Tobey clearly had a mismatch inside and the Cavs exploited it. If the Cavaliers play each game like they did in the second half, they could be in the running for a top-three seed in the ACC tournament.

Brogden (13 points, seven rebounds and two assists) and Tobey (18 points and seven rebounds) picked up the pace for Harris (11 points per game on the season; zero points today). Also, do not rule out forward Akil Mitchell, who finished with nine rebounds and 13 points. Can they do that against premier competition as well as the weaker opponents like Davidson?

Virginia’s offensive scheme is bound to keep the scores interesting in the long run. Its defense, however, will provide a stable backing and help them create long possessions for opponents, playing to the Cavaliers’ advantage.

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