So, that game wasn’t fun. It was a gut punch of a result that, while everyone knew South Carolina was decent, was a bit unexpected. There are takes, upon takes, upon takes about this Virginia team, the roster as a whole, and specific personnel. But let’s take a moment to admire the fact that Tony Bennett almost siphoned a win out of this team’s poor performance Sunday afternoon.
Alright, so at the 14:30 mark in the second half against South Carolina the referee blew his whistle and indicated that Kihei Clark had blood dripping down his left knee. At the time, Virginia was losing by eleven, 42-31. A brief timeout was called and trainer Ethan Saliba was tasked with taping up Clark’s leg to cover the cut.
Bennett proceeded to grab the dry erase board, draw up an offense, ensure his guys knew what he was saying, and send them back out. The ‘Hoos went on to use that set on nine of the remaining fifteen possessions against the South Carolina man to man defense, scoring 11 points for 1.22 points per possession. In fact, if Stattmann (who has shot an encouraging 3-7 from deep in the last two games) doesn’t pass up an open three, it could’ve been 1.56 points per possession.
Those numbers aren’t astronomical, and the impact was mitigated by South Carolina’s switch to a zone, but in the context of Virginia’s .735 points per possession on all other settled trips and the .675 points per possession they scored on the possessions against the Gamecocks’ man to man defense, they’re heartening results.
No, this wasn’t the Bennetts’ traditional mover blocker offense, neither the continuity ball screen set, nor was it the triangle offense that worked so well against Texas Tech. This set is one fit to the strengths of the Virginia offense. Specifically, Mamadi Diakite and Kihei Clark.
Virginia had actually run this offense twice in the first half, resulting in two open, missed threes from Woldetensae and Diakite. The play resulting in an open shot for Diakite came with eight minutes remaining in the first half, and Bennett relied on the mover blocker offense for the remaining first half possessions against South Carolina’s man to man defense, before relying on it heavily in the second half. This appears to be a set that Bennett and his staff drew up this week in response to the continued failure of Virginia’s standard offenses.
So, what is this alternative offensive set? Well, it starts with a ball screen at the top left of the key for Kihei Clark, set to get Kihei the opportunity to drive down the left lane. Primarily, the screener was Key. This allowed Clark to decide, either to drive to the hoop by using the pick, or, to pass over to a guard, either Stattmann, Morsell, or Woldetensae, that had cut from the deep left corner to the right wing. While that guard had been cutting, another guard cut through from that right wing essentially replacing the man that had cleared through.
If Kihei made the decision to drive to the hoop, this meant that both wing defenders were occupied following their men across the court. That left the other big, who was guarding Diakite, to slide over to help Clark. This resulted in a few dunks from Diakite off of baseline cuts.
The alternative option was a look inside, which they went to the majority of the time. That guard that cut from the left corner would use a pin down screen from Diakite to get a step on his defender and then catch the pass from Clark. Diakite would post up his man after setting the pin down screen. The guard would then pass the ball in to Diakite in the post. This gave Diakite options. He could back down his man, and if South Carolina sent a double, he would look to kick to the outside for an open three. When the help stayed home, Diakite would attack either off the bounce, or from a post-up with his nice over the top floater.
Here, we have an example of Kihei’s first option, to drive left and then feed the open man when the help comes. Specifically, he dribble drives off the screen and then finds Diakite for the slam. (Excuse my not-so-perfect attempts at drawing lines and arrows as I break this down).
On this next play, Kihei decides to move the ball after the screen, hitting Key off the slip of the pick. Stattmann clears through, and Morsell uses the Diakite pin down screen to fill that space Stattmann left. Key moves the ball to a semi-open Morsell, who throws the ball in to Diakite, who proceeds to finish the play with that nice over the top floater.
On this play, the pick is off screen, and Stattmann receives the pass from Key after coming off the pin down screen from Diakite. He then tosses the ball to Diakite, who feeds Morsell on the back side. Morsell attacks the reckless closeout from South Carolina, and then finds Clark for the open three.
This was just another in a long line of in game adjustments Coach Bennett has made that have given his team opportunities to win games. Did they close it out this time? No, but what is becoming evident is that Bennett’s schematic shifts are enough to keep this team in games.
Yes, this was a stinger of a loss, but you can’t deny that while this offense can be stagnant and turnover prone, Bennett will get what he can out of his guys. He isn’t without criticism, in fact there’ve been times this year that I’ve questioned what he’s emphasized on the offensive side of the ball, but Bennett is willing and able to adapt to the game plan depending on what is working and what isn’t. If you needed more reason to trust this coaching staff, here it is.