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Virginia Basketball: Breaking down the Cavaliers' offensive success

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UVa has the most efficient offense - yes, offense - in the country. How have they gotten to that point?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

At 12-1 (1-0 ACC), the No. 5 Virginia men's basketball team has looked every bit the part of a national contender thus far in the 2015-16 campaign. A surprise this season has been the Cavaliers' offensive efficiency, ranked as the nation's best by KenPom.com. While their defense continues to adjust to the new freedom of movement rules, Tony Bennett's team has evolved into an offensive juggernaut, averaging 75.7 points per game and scoring 80-plus six times.

Longtime calling cards of UVa's offensive system, a spinoff of the Princeton offense known as "Mover-Blocker," are constant ball movement and off-ball motion. With junior London Perrantes in his third season as the Hoos' point man, it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that this veteran-laden squad has become a force to be reckoned with when they have the ball.

But just how do they keep finding a way to not only move the ball and find an opportunity for a quality shot, but make it?

First, let's look at where they rank in the ACC in terms of how many of their made field goals have come from assists.

Team Assists Field goals made Percentage
Pittsburgh 265 383 .692
North Carolina 286 483 .592
Clemson 198 337 .588
Syracuse 209 357 .585
Boston College 192 340 .565
Virginia 197 363 .543
Georgia Tech 211 396 .533
Notre Dame 196 373 .525
Wake Forest 158 310 .510
Miami 181 365 .496
Florida State 180 374 .481
Louisville 191 412 .464
Virginia Tech 169 372 .454
Duke 188 417 .451
NC State 160 358 .447

There's not a ton of separation from team to team, but the difference between North Carolina (the highest-rated team that isn't an outlier) and NC State is pretty stark. It doesn't appear that there's any inherent bias toward tempo, as the second, third, and fourth-best teams in the table above are ranked 41st, 346th, and 315th respectively out of 351 teams, and the bottom three are 96th, 152nd, and 286th. For the record, Pitt is 266th and Virginia is dead last.

Great, so it seems as though UVa moves the ball into open areas reasonably well. But exactly where might those open areas be? Are they coming in the post off of backdoor cuts or bounce passes from the perimeter? Kick-outs from the interior for a three-pointer? Somewhere in between?

To get a better idea of that, we have a couple sets of data we can look at. Let's start by looking at effective field goal percentage, or eFG%. eFG% is an advanced statistic which factors in the reality that threes count differently from other shots from the field, rather than treating twos and threes the same.

The formula looks like this: Field goals made + 0.5 * threes made, divided by field goals attempted. For example, if Malcolm Brogdon goes 8-15 from the field with five threes, his eFG% is .700.

Team eFG%
Miami .566
Notre Dame .566
Louisville .565
Virginia .559
Pittsburgh .557
Duke .548
North Carolina .546
Florida State .519
Georgia Tech .509
Clemson .504
Wake Forest .499
Boston College .498
Syracuse .495
Virginia Tech .492
NC State .463

One again, the jump between most teams generally isn't big, but the difference between Miami/Notre Dame and Virginia Tech (NC State is an outlier) is noticeable. The overall offensive efficiency numbers reflect this, as Boston College, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech are all outside the nation's 100 most efficient offenses. NC State and Clemson don't fare much better, at 82nd and 99th respectively.

While those numbers tell a significant part of the story, we need a better way to actually visualize this. Although season-long heat maps generally aren't available for college teams, we're still in luck; we can check out the shot charts for individual games. I chose UVa's best, median, and worst game with respect to eFG%.

Worst: George Washington (L, 73-68)

GW chart

Ouch. For a team of UVa's physicality, one would have expected them to finish inside with relative ease, but the Cavaliers shot just 51 percent around the basket, compared to 54 percent for GW. Perrantes, Brogdon, and Darius Thompson collectively went 3-13 from three, and the entire team was 5-20. It was a poor shooting night and it showed in the stat sheet and on the scoreboard.

Median: Lehigh (W, 80-54)

Lehigh chart

Not a lot of variety in terms of the Cavaliers' shot selection against the Mountain Hawks, but the shots they did take were generally well-advised ones. A marked improvement inside at 21-29 was a major factor, while Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey combined for 18 points. As a team, they also went a respectable - though not stellar - 7-17 from mid-to-long range inside the arc.

Best: Long Beach State (W, 87-52)

Long Beach State chart

There's a lot to like here. Going 13-25 from three is as good of a starting point as you can find, and shooting 58 percent from two was the other part of the formula for an adjusted field goal percentage of .664. In other words, UVa got around two-thirds of the points that were available to them from the field. Brogdon shot at an uncharacteristic .273 clip, but was still one of five Virginia players to score in double figures.

If you're curious, here's UVa's eFG% in chronological order:

Opponent eFG%
Morgan State .531
George Washington .444
Bradley .623
Long Beach State .664
George Mason .625
Lehigh .569
Ohio State .519
William & Mary .466
West Virginia .663
Villanova .652
California .454
Oakland .509
Notre Dame .612

Interestingly, in the three games detailed above, Virginia had a better eFG% when their assist-to-field-goal ratio was better - it was 44 percent against GW, 52 against Lehigh, and 68 percent against Long Beach State.

What can we take away from all of that?

  • Virginia is adept at moving the ball into quality shot locations, and performs better when being more deliberate on offense - but not necessarily hesitant - and making the extra pass when needed.
  • Adjusted for three-pointers made, UVa is near the top of the conference in terms of shooting ability, which bodes well against teams like tonight's opponent, Virginia Tech.
  • The size and physical ability possessed by the likes of Gill, Tobey, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt is something that will serve the Cavs well if they want to three-peat as regular season champions in the ACC.
  • If you're a UVa fan, it's not exactly reasonable to expect the kind of shooting nights they had against either GW or against Long Beach State. Rather, hope that they play with force inside and maintain their 41 percent rate from behind the arc, currently the best in the ACC.
  • If they do that, it'll be a really fun winter and spring in Charlottesville.

Note: All stats in this article are through Saturday's games.