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Virginia basketball’s experience paying offensive dividends when it matters most

Analyzing how a coalescence of coaching and playing experience has UVA’s offense humming.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 10 ACC Tournament - Virginia vs Clemson Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Now having won four straight games and securing a chance at the ACC Tournament Championship, the Virginia Cavaliers have distinctly turned things around since their four game skid which included consecutive losses to Boston College and North Carolina. In the two weeks since that frustrating loss in Chapel Hill, the Wahoos have flipped the script, particularly offensively, and are absolutely humming heading into tonight’s rematch against the Duke Blue Devils.

But, how has it happened? How did a team that looked like it was burnt toast relative to everybody else’s jam-covered english muffins transition itself into a delightfully wonderful piece of warmed and crispy bread with some assortment of your favorite quality spreads and toppings?

Well, it’s not necessarily rocket science. First of all, the coaching staff has adjusted. After UVA scored less than an adjusted 1.0 points per possession against Louisville, Notre Dame, Boston College, and North Carolina, Tony Bennett and company accurately identified the offense as the most prominent problem for the Wahoos.

As such, Virginia flipped its offensive scheme back to the program’s traditional sides offense and away from the inside triangle scheme it’d been relying on for over a month, but that had become stale from sitting in the pantry for too long (this bread metaphor has struck me so I’m running with it).

For a more in-depth breakdown of the offense and how returning to sides (or mover-blocker) has helped, you can check out this film analysis from after UVA’s previous Clemson win on February 28th. Beyond the minutiae, though, the Wahoo coaching staff has simply found new but old ways to put its personnel in the best positions to execute.

Fundamentally, that’s what Bennett’s offensive schemes are predicated on: running a few different relatively simplistic sets that, when drilled extensively and played in over the course of multiple seasons, players can execute at a high level. Clearly, after last night’s 20-point drubbing of Clemson when Virginia had its best adjusted offensive performance since beating Virginia Tech on January 18th and the third most efficient outing of the season, Bennett was pleased with how his guys played within and beyond his offensive structure.

“I think the guys are taking care of the ball,” he commented after the game. “They’re cutting hard. Our screening has improved.” Beyond that, he pointed to how his more veteran players in particular are “doing some things that we don’t work on in practice... Kihei’s played so much. He and Jayden [Gardner] had a beautiful slip at the rim. They’re just seeing things as the game presents [itself] and that’s the best, to me, kind of basketball.”

Continuing, Bennett emphasized how much he loves “when you give them a structure and then they play the game out of it. [We] got a few actions and sets, but you want them to use their instincts and that’s what I’m seeing happening.” He mentioned how “with Reece and Kihei taking care of the ball, putting pressure on the lane, Jayden’s efficiency in his game, and the other guys [such as Armaan Franklin producing as well], that’s really helped. And then we got some offensive rebounds at crucial times which is a big part of it.”

Kihei Clark, to the scheme and the staff’s credit, stated that “our sides [offense] really just wears people down,” and that, especially when other teams give them extra opportunities with turnovers or by allowing offensive rebounds, “we get the looks that we want,” as they work to “try to wear them down from [playing sides].”

Granted, Virginia did incorporate its inside triangle offense into the game against Clemson yesterday with reasonable success. Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardner excelled at attacking the paint and utilizing the inside motion and screening that that offense affords them.

But what this all points to is a near-perfect coalescence of the staff and the personnel producing in meaningful ways. The players are capitalizing on the advantages the offensive scheme provides them and utilizing their experience within the offense to great effect while the coaches continue to maneuver fairly simplistic actions to best suit their players.

More capable defenses with better individual defenders and smarter coaching staffs will have more and better answers to trying to slow down a UVA offense that is producing at a high clip without even shooting the ball that well. But, in tournament play when prep time is significantly limited and experience is paramount, Virginia’s meshing of simplistic yet diverse offensive looks with a team that knows how to play within the offense and extend beyond it to reach their scoring potential is a perfect formula for postseason success.