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Steals and turnovers are the keys to Virginia’s historic defense

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Steals and forced turnovers are the highest they have been under Bennett

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While it should come as no surprise to Virginia Cavaliers basketball fans that UVA has a great defense, this year it has been exceptional. The Hoos currently have a KenPom adjusted defensive rating of 80.8, which is the best in the history of the ratings, dating back to 2002. The Cavaliers are currently only allowing 52.1 points per game, which is the fourth lowest total of any team in the past twenty years. While these numbers are impressive, Virginia’s defense has been excellent before, since the 2015 squad only allowed an even better 51.5 points per game. What separates this year’s edition from other Tony Bennett squads? Steals and turnovers.

UVA is averaging 7.7 steals per game and is forcing 14.6 turnovers a game. Both of those totals are the highest in the Tony Bennett era, and by a significant margin, as shown in the chart below.

UVA Steals and Forced Turnovers over Time

Year Steals Per Game Forced Turnovers Per Game
Year Steals Per Game Forced Turnovers Per Game
2018 7.7 14.6
2017 5.6 12.7
2016 5.4 11.6
2015 5.5 10.5
2014 5.2 11.2
2013 5.9 12.9
2012 6.5 12.7
2011 5.8 12.1
2010 6.1 11.8

The Hoos defense has stolen the ball 2.1 more times per game than last year and created 4.1 more turnovers per game as compared to the dominant 2015 defense. Virginia has forced turnovers on 23.6% of their opponent’s possessions, which ranks 11th in the country. This is especially effective since the Cavaliers limit opponents to only 60 possessions a game. The increase in turnovers limits the amount of shots the opposing team takes and the uptick in steals increases UVA’s fast break opportunities for easy buckets as well.

These trends are not just against easier non-conference opponents either. During ACC play this year so far, the averages have actually improved.

UVA Steals and Turnovers in ACC Play

Split Steals Per Game Forced Turnovers Per Game
Split Steals Per Game Forced Turnovers Per Game
Overall 7.7 14.6
Non-Conference 7.0 13.8
ACC Play 8.5 15.1

Each ACC team UVA has faced has committed at least 11 turnovers, with #20 Clemson the most at 19. Not surprising that the Hoos have started out 9-0 in ACC play. Hopefully this new way to frustrate opponents will continue as the Cavaliers move into the second half of the ACC schedule and into the postseason.