Cavaliers slow it down, but Hokies favor speed
Only 150 miles separate Charlottesville from Blacksburg. But the basketball teams at Virginia and Virginia Tech couldn't be further apart. While Tony Bennett's Cavaliers play at a snail's pace, James Johnson's Hokies are built for speed.
When Virginia (12-5, 2-2) plays at Virginia Tech (11-6, 2-2) on Thursday night, it will be an interesting clash of styles as both try to dictate the pace and break from the crowded middle of the pack in the parity-laden ACC.
"They've been trying to speed up Tony Bennett since he was at Washington [State]. It's gonna be a tough task," Johnson said. "We'll try to press them a little bit."
|Virginia at Va. Tech|
|When » Thursday, 8 p.m.|
|Where » Cassell Coliseum,|
|TV » Ch. 20|
The Cavaliers and Hokies not only are at opposite ends of the defensive statistics in the ACC, they are first and last by a wide margin. While Virginia has surrendered 50.6 points per game, 5.5 fewer than any other team in the league, Virginia Tech has allowed 74.1 points per game, 4.6 more than any other ACC team.
Both enter in high gear. Virginia Tech has won its last two ACC games, coming from 11 and eight points down in the second half against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, respectively. Virginia is coming off its most impressive victory, a 56-36 win over high-flying Florida State. It was a triumph of Bennett's confounding system as the Cavaliers held the Seminoles to their lowest output in 34 years.
"They're gonna keep the basketball in front of them," Johnson said. "First of all, their transition defense is very good getting back. Getting easy baskets on them is gonna be very difficult."
Complicating the task is Virginia's unique blend of ball pressure, keyed by senior point guard Jontel Evans, and emphasis on guarding the lane. Getting players open on the perimeter against the Cavaliers isn't hard. Guards hoping to make penetration, however, are often stymied.
To hear Bennett talk about the success of his defense, it's clear how much he believes in the system.
"In games we've defended well, we've been able to sustain our commitment to the defense and the battle that you have each possession defensively within your own mind as a player and collectively as a group," Bennett said. "There's so many little things that happen on each possession. You gotta play ball-screen defense. You gotta play off-ball defense, on-ball defense. You gotta be sliding. You gotta work on block-outs. You gotta have vision. It's just something you have to be committed to if you want to be good."
Virginia will have another concern Thursday as it will have to deal with the nation's top scorer, Virginia Tech senior point guard Erick Green, who is averaging 24.6 points per game and is second in the county in free throws made (118).
"He learned from a good one in Malcolm Delaney -- how to score, how to get to the free throw line," Bennett said. "He's shooting the 3-point ball well. He's got a midrange game. He gets to the rim. He scores in transition, plays off ball screens. He's complete. You can't say, 'Well, if we take this thing away from him, then he's in trouble.' He's got a lot of different weapons."