But midway through this basketball season, Virginia is defending historically well.
The Cavaliers are allowing 50.4 points per game, second nationally to Wisconsin’s 49.0. That’s fitting, since Virginia coach Tony Bennett was a Badgers assistant under his father, Dick.
In the ACC era, since 1954, the Cavaliers’ record low for points allowed is 57.2 per game in 1983, the senior season for 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, a towering and unique defensive presence. This season’s defense is far more a collective effort.
Only two teams in ACC history have yielded fewer than 55 points per game: North Carolina State at 49.1 in 1982, that under Jim Valvano and before the shot clock; and N.C. State at 54.7 in 1997 under Herb Sendek.
Neither of those squads was memorable. In ’82, the year before V’s famous national title, the Wolfpack went 7-7 in the ACC and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In ’97, State went 4-12 in the league and lost in the second round of the NIT.
This Cavaliers team is ranked 15th nationally and certainly capable of advancing in postseason.
Granted, part of Virginia’s stinginess is rooted in pace. The Cavaliers’ methodical offense milks the clock, limiting possessions and scoring opportunities.
But Virginia’s also thrives when measured by opponents’ shooting accuracy.
Georgia Tech shot a dreadful 29.2 percent Thursday, the lowest for a Cavaliers’ ACC rival since Wake Forest’s 29.0 in 1996. That Deacons team, led by Tim Duncan and coached by former Virginia assistant Dave Odom, reached the Elite Eight. This Yellow Jackets bunch will be lucky to avoid a losing season.
The Cavaliers rank second to Florida State -- unlike the Cavs, the Seminoles are NBA-long and defend with raw athleticism -- in the ACC and 19th nationally in field goal percentage defense at 38.3. The program-low during the ACC era is 39.0 percent in 1995, the Jeff Jones-coached team that went 25-9 and reached the Elite Eight.
More impressive, Virginia is second nationally in 3-point percentage defense at 25.7 – indicative of how good the Cavaliers are at closing out on shooters after their signature double-teams of the low post. Georgia Tech made 1-of-15 from beyond the arc Thursday.
“I think they missed because of our defense,” point guard Jontel Evans told VirginiaSports.com’s Jeff White. “We were pressuring the ball, we weren't gambling, we were talking out there and communicating. We just were jelling out there on the defensive end.”
“What they do defensively is they play extremely well together,” Jackets first-year coach Brian Gregory told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They communicate very well. They're there to help each other. They're a very unselfish team.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, as detailed here, was similarly impressed as he prepared for the Blue Devils’ game against the Cavaliers. Virginia subsequently held Duke to 20 points below its average in a 61-58 loss.
The ACC does not chart annual 3-point percentage defense statistics, but 25.7 percent would shatter the school standard. Virginia’s all-time low was 30.0 percent in 1993.
Center Assane Sene, a 7-foot senior, will miss six weeks after surgery Friday on the right ankle he broke against Georgia Tech, and his absence certainly will affect Bennett's defensive tactics.
Seven Cavaliers opponents this season have failed to break 50 points, and three have been in the 30s. Such numbers are unprecedented in the shot-clock era – since 1987 -- and do not bode well for Virginia Tech entering the teams’ collision Sunday in Charlottesville.
The Hokies (11-7, 0-4) have lost four consecutive games, shooting below 40 percent in each. It’s the longest stretch of sub-40 percent accuracy for Seth Greenberg’s program since it joined the ACC in 2004.
But Virginia Tech also defends well, allowing 60.9 points per game, third in the ACC. Translation: First team to double-nickel wins.
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