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Meet Virginia....

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Some insight into what Auburn will see on the court Saturday night.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Coaches Press Conference Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

So here’s the deal. I had planned on acting super smart, spending this week googling Virginia before writing some brilliant scouting report that would blow everyone’s minds and leave you all thinking “Dang that Nerd knows his stuff”. But here’s the thing... All I knew about Virginia heading into this week is they are good at basketball, play slow as hell and I want to beat their butts Saturday. So instead of plagiarizing the hard work of others, I thought I would just share some resources I found this week that I think do a great job explaining the monster Auburn will attempt to slay Saturday.

Pack Line Defense

Chances are pretty good that if you have watched a minute of Virginia basketball, read an article where they were mentioned or seen a tweet that involved UVA, you have heard of the phrase “Pack Line Defense”. It’s a defensive scheme invented by Tony Bennett’s father, Dick Bennett, that he’s used to develop one of the strongest defensive programs in college basketball. Seriously, it’s insane how consistently good Virginia has been defensively under Bennett, especially since 2014. Just look at these defensive efficiency rankings per KenPom for every year under Tony Bennett:

  • 2009 - 69th
  • 2010 - 71st
  • 2011 - 71st
  • 2012 - 5th
  • 2013 - 25th
  • 2014 - 4th
  • 2015 - 2nd
  • 2016 - 7th
  • 2017 - 2nd
  • 2018 - 1st
  • 2019 - 5th

That’s quite the impressive resume. So what is this “Pack Line Defense” and why is it so effective? Here’s a really good video from Coachbase on the fundamentals of the Pack Line scheme.

For those more into reading than watching, here are some other really good explanations on how Tony Bennett’s teams make life so difficult for opposing offenses:

The short and sweet explanation is the Pack Line defense is predicated on pressuring the ball, defending the lane and forcing contested looks from 3. The Cavaliers will aggressively hedge on ball screens, double the post and play strong help defense to prevent easy buckets at the rim. They will also crash the defensive glass hard in order to keep opposing teams to one and done offensive possessions.

So how do you beat it? Well it’s not easy considering Virginia has lost a grand total of 6 games in the past 2 years. But the good news is Auburn has the weapons to exploit it. From our sister site Streaking the Lawn’s breakdown:

There are a few vulnerabilities in running the Pack Line. A ball-handler who can routinely beat his man off the dribble creates huge problems if he can also make good passes: as the off-ball defenders come to help the dribble penetration, they leave passing outlets open. The same goes for post players who can pass quickly and accurately out of double teams (or even before the double team arrives). Strong perimeter shooting teams can also have success since defenders are two or three feet under the three-point line; a quick release is extra difficult for the Pack Line to stop.

Sound like any team you know?

Well maybe not the post players who can pass quickly part....

For Auburn’s offense, the key to winning this game is going to be the shooting of folks not named Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. The Cavaliers are gonna work REALLY hard to keep Harper from the rim which should open up some clean looks for guys like Malik Dunbar, Danjel Purifoy, Samir Doughty and Anfernee McLemore from deep. If those guys can knock those shots down, especially early, Auburn has very good chance of pulling off the W.

Movers & Blockers

On the other side of the court, Virginia will attempt to run our guys dizzy with their “Blocker-Mover Offense”. If you have watched any UVA games before, you probably have already been annoyed by it but it will get even MORE annoying when you better understand the reason behind the madness. Here’s a great primer by Jordan Sperber (a great follow on Twitter if you are into bball stuff).

Some other great reading material on this maddening scheme:

The gist of it is Virginia will have two players (typically frontcourt guys Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite) constantly setting screens for three players (typically the talented backcourt of Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome) who will read how the defense reacts and look for an open shot. What makes it so difficult to defend is the movers are going to react and read to how the defender guards them off the ball screen. Cheat over? Then one of these 40%+ three point shooters will flare out and bury the three. Chase? Then watch out for the jumper off some curl action. This is an experienced, disciplined rotation who fully understand Bennett’s offense and run it as well as can be desired. They can shoot lights out from 3, score through contact at the rim and have the size to bang down low.

Auburn has excelled this season at producing turnovers which has resulted in a deadly transition three point attack. This will be the Tigers’ toughest task this season. The Cavaliers lead the nation in fewest turnovers per game, helped by their slow pace, and are top 25 in fewest turnovers per possession. They also do a great job limiting transition offense by sending at least two folks, sometimes as many as three back on every shot attempt to ensure their opponent can’t turn a miss into quick points down the other end.

The Tigers have navigated a difficult road to Minneapolis and now will face arguably the best team in the country depending on which analytical service you trust. Virginia will attempt to suffocate Auburn offensively by forcing them into half court sets and denying anything in the paint while running the Tigers ragged on the other end as the Wahoos hunt for open looks. If Auburn can have a strong night shooting from deep and can coax a few more turnovers than usual from Virginia then they have a great shot at moving on the the National Championship. If there were ever a time to come out hot to start the game this is it.

War Eagle!