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Men's Basketball

What Virginia’s Offense Will Be

Over the past 18 months, Tony Bennett has expanded the offensive sets his team runs. Last season there was a well-documented new scheme Bennett and Co. utilized to expand their offense into the juggernaut it became: The Continuity Ball Screen. This offense has become prevalent across college basketball, and each coach adds their own flavor to it, as Bennett has. 

Last year, the implementation of the Continuity Ball Screen offense was a ploy to take advantage of the talent of that team and put them in positions to make reads and play with more freedom than the traditionally rigid Mover Blocker offense did. This year though, the Continuity Ball Screen offense will come with a new purpose: involving and exploiting the elite frontcourt talent. Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff are prototype Continuity Ball Screen big men and their success or lack thereof in this offense will determine how good this offense and this team will be. 

The expanded offensive scheme was put in the hands of Ty Jerome last season, and things went pretty well. The team finished with the 2nd highest rated offense in the nation last season, very much due to the immense talent and IQ of the players, but also the schematic changes that put them in the right spots to make plays. 

Through 6 games this season, similar adjustments have been made in regards to the strengths of this relatively new roster. Against Vermont, arguably the best man to man defense the ‘Hoos have faced, Virginia used the Continuity Ball Screen offense roughly 38.2% (Mover Blocker accounted for only 12.7%) of offensive possessions, and 64.3% of possessions with both Diakite and Huff on the floor together. 

Outside of that strong half against Vermont (which, for this team, was a monstrous 37-point 20 minutes), the offense has struggled so far this season, and that certainly holds true with the Continuity Ball Screen offense. But the reason Bennett has stuck with it is that Diakite and Huff fit the scheme perfectly. Their proficiency shooting from deep and ability to roll to the rim is what makes this system so exciting for this team. If Kihei Clark, Braxton Key, Casey Morsell and the remaining ball handlers can make accurate reads and penetrate the defense with dribble drives, the offensive potential of playing Diakite and Huff together can be fulfilled. 

An additional aspect of the offensive outburst in the second half against Vermont was another schematic twist added last season. Namely, the Hoos utilized the ball screen at the top of the key to spread the floor with shooters on the outside. That was particularly successful last year with Ty Jerome, and it’s good to see Bennett bring it back in the last 10 minutes or so of the Vermont game. Originally perhaps hoping to utilize Clark and Huff’s chemistry displayed in the Columbia game, that set resulted in a good number of open shots, three of which were knocked down by Diakite and Key late in the game. 

The blocker mover has been used sparingly so far this year. That’s a result of different personnel, as the team no longer can take advantage of Jack Salt’s baseline screens and Kyle Guy’s innate ability to hit jumpers off of them. What they have done is run the mover blocker scheme to set up Diakite and Huff in the post. While mostly ineffective in the post against Vermont, it’s nice to see further adaption to the skills of the roster. 

This past weekend, we did see Bennett employ his traditional set more, partially as a result of Diakite’s foul trouble against Massachusetts, but also since against ASU, Clark and Key were generally ineffective getting to the rim off the continuity ball screen set.

Shooting has been a problem for this team, especially from 3. But, Clark’s passing out of the pick and roll gave the Hoos enough solid opportunities in the second half of the Vermont game. That ability to find outside shooters is encouraging, and Clark’s willingness to knock down a few big ones himself has been massive for this team. As Bennett said post game last Tuesday, “I’ve learned not to question him.” Of course, Clark still does have some offensive deficiencies. He’s been loose with the ball at times, but that could also be a result of not having a true secondary ball handler to couple with Clark.

Key and Diakite going a combined 5-8 from three against Vermont was another progression that suggests that the spread the floor offense could play a big role for this team. Combining that with what will hopefully be improved deep shooting from the likes of Morsell, Woldetensae, and Stattmann, this team could be significantly more effective on offense than previously expected. 

Morsell’s offensive explosion against ASU is a phenomenal development for the Virginia offense. Even more so for their Continuity Ball Screen offense, as the majority of the first year’s points were a result of him either utilizing a wing ball screen to get a step on his defender to the rim, or rejecting the screen, going underneath and finishing in the paint. His one 3 of the game came in timely fashion, as he put the ‘Hoos up for good 48-45 in the last minute. If Morsell can be an offensive threat as a driver and an outside shooter, this offense will hit a whole new level.

So far, the veterans have stepped up in their roles on offense. Diakite has been nailing deep shots, corralling offensive boards, and driving to the hoop with a vengeance. Key has knocked down big jumpers, while also taking his Swiss army knife skill set to another level, acting as a ball handler and screener in this offense. Jay Huff has worked well in the post, and has displayed that tenacity many were wanting to see from him this year. Kihei Clark has stepped into the gaping hole Ty Jerome left behind brilliantly as Clark is unafraid to take big shots at the end of the clock, while also getting his teammates involved and running the team like many never thought he could. The younger guys have struggled as a whole, but the athleticism and defense have been there and we know that, as it did for Morsell on Sunday, the offense will come. 

Yeah, this team will never be as high powered as last year’s was, and they will have to rely on their stingy defense to win them games. But, if the players can learn to excel in the situations that Bennett’s scheming presents, the offense will start to click.

Thanks for reading! If you get the chance, check out the Brogdon Fan Page on Instagram (@brogdonfanpage) and follow me on Twitter (@zachcarey11) for more coverage on Brogdon and other Hoos in the NBA!

Check out Episode 2 of The Locker Room Access podcast with Mark Jerome featuring the Guy family, Kirk Penney, Justin Maxey, Matt Palumbo, and Jared Czech!

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