U.Va. men's basketball

Slowly challenging

  • Pin It
The University of Virginia hired Tony Bennett as its basketball coach Monday but will not introduce him publicly until today. During the interim we are left to sift through predictably glowing testimonials, and to parse the numbers he compiled in three seasons at Washington State.

Most important, Bennett's teams won. The Cougars defended like few others, and no one with a whiff of credibility considered them poorly coached.

  • David Teel
  • David Teel
  • Related
  • Do you approve of the job Virginia AD Craig Littlepage has done in his career?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Do you approve of Virginia's decision to hire Tony Bennett?

    Do you approve of U.Va.'s decision to hire Tony Bennett?

    • Yes
    • No
The last time Virginia faithful could claim such was during the 1990s under Jeff Jones.

Any gripes about Jones' teams revolved around their stagnant offenses. As do questions about Bennett, a 39-year-old with only three years of college head-coaching experience.

None of Bennett's Washington State squads averaged better than 67 points per game or rated among the nation's top 200 in scoring. This season's Cougars ranked 314th out of 330 Division I teams at 59.2 points per game.

Bennett's Washington State record — 69-33 overall, 32-22 in the Pacific 10, two NCAA tournament bids and a Sweet 16 appearance last season — prove you can win without playing at Usain Bolt speed. But success at the Cougars' methodical pace is rare, especially in the ACC.

Since the advent of the shot clock in the 1985-86 season, 13 ACC teams have averaged fewer than 67 points. None had a winning conference record.

Three with winning records — Wake Forest in 1996; Clemson and Wake in '97 — scored fewer than 70 a game.

It's been two decades since any of the ACC's high-octane programs — North Carolina, Duke and Maryland — were that offensively challenged. The Tar Heels' last such edition was 1982, when they won Dean Smith's first national championship, nursed late leads in the four corners delay, and averaged 66.7 points.

Bennett's best team, last year's, averaged 66.4. The only 2008 NCAA tournament teams to score less were San Diego, American and Winthrop — notice the lack of power-conference teams.

The NCAA's online database dates eight seasons, and during that span 30 of 32 Final Four teams averaged 70 or more points. The exceptions were UCLA in 2006 and Georgetown in '07.

From 2003-05, all 12 Final Four teams averaged at least 76.6 points.

Virginia fans grew accustomed to games in the 60s, even 50s, during Jones' tenure. He was dismissed in 1998 after an 11-18 season in which the Cavaliers' norm was 65.7.

Ironically, his lowest-scoring team clawed its way to an 8-8 ACC finish in 1994 and advanced one round in the NCAA tournament.

But there's a glaring difference. Bennett's 2007 and '08 teams shot a much better percentage than any of Jones'. Washington State ranked 27th nationally last year at 47.5 percent.

So the Cougars weren't bad offensively. They were just slow.

Meanwhile, they ranked among the top 20 in scoring defense each season, No. 1 in 2009, and among the top 60 in field-goal percentage defense each year.

Having been to Washington State's remote campus in Pullman — you can see Moscow (Idaho) from there — I appreciate how difficult it must be to lure top-flight basketball talent to the school. But Bennett's deliberate ways are rooted in far more than geography.

Bennett played, and worked as an assistant coach, for his father. Dick Bennett's 2000 Wisconsin Badgers are the only team in the last 24 years to advance to the Final Four without breaking 70 in at least one NCAA tournament game.

  • Pin It