THE CRESCENDO is unmistakable. As the time ticks down on an opponent's possession in John Paul Jones Arena, all the Hoos down in Charlottesville rise and clamor, awaiting the climax: an errant shot or, better yet, a shot clock violation. In that situation what follows is the kind of roar typically reserved for breakaway dunks and late-game daggers, a euphoric appreciation of Virginia's disciplined, stifling pack-line defense.
In coach Tony Bennett's seven seasons with the Cavaliers, who have earned No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the last two tournaments, the fans have rightfully come to relish such stops. Yet what makes this team capable of not only avoiding the early exits of the last two seasons but also winning the program's first national title is that it finally has an offense worthy of equal admiration. With 6'5" senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, a likely All-America who averages 18.4 points, developing into a strong jump shooter (41.1% from three), Bennett has the most efficient go-to scorer of his tenure. And in emerging 6'5" sophomore Devon Hall the team has gained a second point guard to complement 6'2" junior London Perrantes (11.2 points, 4.4 assists). The nation's ninth-most-efficient offense can outgun Villanova (winning 86--75 on Dec. 19) or surge for 18 points in 90 seconds to complete a frantic 72--71 comeback (against Wake Forest on Jan. 26).
March 14, 2016
The Cavs are adaptable: Bennett has opened up the floor by playing 6'7" sophomore Isaiah Wilkins at power forward and shifting 6'8" Anthony Gill to the five, but he can still match size by deploying 7-foot, 260-pound senior center Mike Tobey alongside Gill. The tinkering resulted in some growing pains, as seen by a 2--3 start in ACC play, but it has enabled them to topple opponents as varied as the three-crazy Wildcats, press-happy West Virginia, fellow grinder Miami and up-tempo North Carolina. In the past six weeks, the defense has tightened just as the offense has revved up. Virginia is a contender coalescing before our eyes, surging toward a more thunderous celebration.
Adjusted tempo for Virginia, which ranks last among the 351 schools in Division I, according to kenpom.com.
Games in which the Cavaliers have scored 80 or more points this season, the most in the Bennett era.
Free throw percentage for Brogdon. He had made 42 straight until he went 9 for 11 last Saturday.
Brogdon can be a little streaky as a shooter. The guy that hurts you is Perrantes. He makes big shots. They're not as good as they've been defensively, but they're not bad. When Brogdon and Perrantes don't score, they struggle. Teams are keying on those two guys and saying, Let everybody else beat us. Brogdon is going to reject 90% of all screens. He wants to play in space by himself. I don't think they trust Tobey with ball-screen coverage defense. That's why they're playing small. I don't think Tobey has been what they anticipated he would be as a senior.