Tony Bennett's game strategy is the spiritual twin of Bill Parcells'. Parcells' mantra was "don't beat yourself." First and foremost, he was not going to beat himself. Do not turn the ball over. Offense was going to be conservative and physical, which in football terms means relying on the run. He liked big linemen and big running backs (ironic that Joe Morris was one of the best backs he ever had), with big quarterbacks throwing to big receivers. His defense was going to be aggressive and physical, taking away the run and forcing you to beat him through the air. He might open it up and air it out early in the game to get a lead, but once he got the lead, he was going to lock it down, run the ball to run the clock, and rely on his defense to keep the other team from scoring. With the defenses the Giants had in the 80s, it generally worked.
Tony Bennett's most important tenet is "don't beat yourself." Do not turn the ball over. The offense is going to be conservative and physical, which in basketball terms means relying on the halfcourt and a heavy emphasis on running off screens. He likes big wings and husky big men, with big guards dumping it into the post. His defense is going to be aggressive and physical, taking away the lane and forcing you to beat him from the outside. He might experiment with different offensive sets early to grab the lead, but once he has the lead, he is going to lock it down, run the mover-blocker to death and rely on his defense to keep the other team from scoring. With the defenses he has had, it generally works.
And that's the story of the Wisconsin game. A first half with mixed offensive sets and 33 points of offense got Virginia the lead, then Tony locked it down in the second half with a full dose of Sides offense using only his most trusted players, and counted on his defense to protect the lead. And it worked. It was an ugly second half for the Cavaliers and Wisconsin chopped the 15-point halftime lead down to a 7-point loss, but at no point was Virginia in real danger of losing.
From the moment De'Andre Hunter dropped in a layup to put Virginia up 9-4 five minutes into the first half, Wisconsin would get closer than that only once: at 8:14 of the first half when a rare D'Mitrik Trice jumper made it 15-12. The Cavaliers responded to that with an 18-6 thrashing over the rest of the half culminated by Ty Jerome dropping in the halftime closer over Ethan Happ's outstretched fingers.
Like Dayton the day before, Wisconsin opened the scoring in the second half to tighten up the game, then spent the rest of the half gasping for breath as they swam against the current for survival. Their struggle was aided by the Hoo Splash Brothers hurling shots at the ocean in a shooting performance reminiscent of the Tech game in JPJ last year, going a combined 4-17 from the floor (2-12 from the arc). Happ was fantastic in this second half, with 12 points on 6-9 shooting, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, his two turnovers were killers, and Trice was unable to shake the Mong00se and put a g00se egg on the scoreboard.
The Badgers spent the first ten minutes of the second half chopping the Virginia lead down methodically, getting it to only 5 with 9:46 to play. That was when Virginia's defense asserted itself and did not permit Wisconsin to score for over 4 minutes, at which point the Badgers found themselves staring at a 10-point deficit. Hunter and Jerome had an answer for everything Wisconsin did the rest of the way.
- As in the Dayton game, first half offensive diversity gave way to a steady diet of Sides in the second half. Unlike the Dayton game, offensive efficiency fell off a cliff after halftime. After a 33-point first half, the Hoos managed only 20 in the second, and 4 of those were in end-of-game situations. In the first half, Virginia scored 11 points out of Sides sets (6 using ball screens and 4 of those on offensive rebounds), and 17 out of spread sets (10 using ball screens and 2 of those on offensive rebounds), with the other five points coming in transition. In the second half, 14 points came out of Sides sets, 3 of them off of ball screens. Of the other 6 points, 2 were on an out-of-bounds play, 2 in transition and 2 in end-of-game situations. Virginia ran Sides on 22 out of 25 second half halfcourt possessions.
- Going deeper into the second half possessions, many of the points scored out of Sides sets did not come from the traditional Sides action of a player using an off-ball screen. Two points came on a post-up, 2 on an out-of-bounds play, 3 off ball screens, 4 on late clock isolations, and 2 from a very nice Sides adaptation where the blocker popped out to the arc when the cutter came off his off-ball screen (see below). Only one second half basket really came from the normal Sides action, a Kihei Clark 3 from the top of the key when Kyle Guy kicked it out to him off the curl.
- We don't often get good 3-point looks out of the Sides cuts against good defenses, because they chase the cutter around screens consistently, and that drives our cutters to curl off the screen. The basic Sides read on that screen is if the defender goes over the screen, step into the corner; if the defender gets hung up on the screen, continue the cut to the arc for a turn and shoot; if the defender chases and keeps contact, curl around the screen into the lane. By chasing and keeping contact with the cutter, the defense can force the curl action. With the screener not being much of a scoring threat, his man can shade off the screen almost like a hedge on a ball screen. With the other blocker on the other side of the lane and not being a big threat, his man can come into the lane. The curling cutter now has a crowd between him and the basket. And this leads us to the adaptation:
- At a critical moment of the second half, I saw a Sides variation that I do not recall having seen before (doesn't mean it's new): Hunter was a blocker on the left side of the lane. Jerome curled around his screen like normal and the ballhandler at the point passed it to him. All normal. But as Jerome began his drive, instead of rolling to the hoop Hunter popped out to the arc. His man - Happ - was shading into the lane and Hunter caught the ball with a lot of space. He could have put up a three and it would have been a good look even with Happ suddenly closing. But Hunter took advantage of Happ's close out and went baseline for a relatively easy two.
- Why not take this adaptation even further? Let's play Guy as a blocker now and then. He is a pretty good screener. In the spread motion set he and Ty or Dre play an off-ball screening game when the ball gets reversed back to their side, and it works well. He also has set some good screens at the foul line in that set. Put Guy next to the lane as a blocker, run Jerome or Hunter off that screen then have Guy pop to the arc and see what happens. Until teams see it on film enough to start preparing for it, chances are good a confused defender is going to make the wrong play and Kyle might actually get an open three point look. And once they do see it on film, it's just another thing they have to prepare for and players have to keep in their minds.
- Wisconsin out-rebounded the Hoos but that was largely because Virginia missed so many shots. The Badgers had just 4 offensive rebounds for the game (on 27 misses). So Virginia rebounded 24 of 27 Wisconsin misses, and the Badgers rebounded 29 of 36 Virginia misses. Both teams did a very good job of controlling their defensive glass.
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