The weekly ACC Coaches Teleconference started back up this week, and Coach Bennett addressed primarily the challenge that will face the Cavaliers as they welcome Syracuse to town Tuesday night.
Virginia faces one of the most dramatic style-related quick turns in the league, coming off of playing back-to-back fast-paced teams Virginia Tech and North Carolina and needing to transition to play the vaunted 2-3 zone of the Orange.
“I think that is what makes league play...unique,” Bennett said of the dichotomy of playing styles. “A lot of teams will talk about defense, but they’re [Syracuse] one of those teams that really hangs their hats and talks about trying to be their best defensively.”
Bennett discussed Syracuse’s length and how that works in their favor in the zone, as well as the fact that, “...they have great rim protection, and that really anchors their defense.”
For the Cavaliers, Coach Bennett has gotten improved defensive play from his two second year guards in Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. Both struggled defensively at times last season, but the duo has stepped up mightily this year.
“I think there’s a maturation process for each player,” Bennett explained. “The longer they play, the more they understand angles and where to be.”
Just as there is a feel to playing good offense, Bennett says it is the same on the other end of the court and that Jerome is beginning to get it, saying, “There’s a defensive feel, and that’s something that he has and understands.”
This is the first season that Coach Bennett has had captains in his now nine seasons at Virginia, and the trio he selected - Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Jack Salt - are all defensively minded. He also mentioned that they were “role players” so they understand their position on the court and are dedicated to their craft. For Hall, he’s working towards achieving the complete game both offensively and defensively.
“Someone at the right time has stepped up and carried the load.” Bennett said. “I told him [Hall] I want to see the complete defensive game with the complete offensive game. He had a few lapses [against UNC] and he was guarding a heck of a player.”
He continued saying that against North Carolina, Hall had “a great offensive game and a solid defensive game with some room for improvement.”
The Cavaliers got the huge win over UNC on a day that Guy and Jerome went 5-for-19 from the field, something Bennett said was encouraging. “To be effective without all three guys or two of your three guys getting hot from the perimeter does show some positivity.”
In the end, Coach Bennett isn’t concerned with preseason expectations or current rankings. He’s just loving the moment.
“I really am enjoying coaching my team,” he stated. “I didn’t know what to expect because we are less experienced that we are in the past...I don’t know when you’re at this level, the competition you’re playing...I don’t know how you can really predict how it’s going to play out, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience.”
The Hoos will host Syracuse at 8pm on Tuesday. The game will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.