It’s not as if the famed Dick Bennett (now his son Tony Bennett), Virginia Pack Line defense hasn’t caused problems for teams over the years. Even this year, with the ‘Hoos not quite up to the very lofty standards they have set in recent seasons, they are still in the top 10 in the country in opponents points per game (#1), opponent average scoring margin (#10), defensive efficiency (#4), opponent floor field goal percentage (#2), points allowed in the first half (#1), points allowed in the second half (#2)...ok, you get the idea, it’s hard to score.
There was reason to believe though that at home, BC could make a game of this. Virginia doesn’t rely excessively on their bigs to score, which helps a BC team not really built to defend a heavy inside presence and although efficient, the Cavaliers are dead last in the country in possessions per game, and had struggled in their ACC games to date on the defensive end having given up almost 48% from the floor in their last three. So while a BC win might have been a stretch, the margin might be kept small.
We know that didn’t happen. BC committed 16 turnovers which were parlayed into a 26-0 differential in points off turnovers for the game, the main cause for the 71-54 final.
It wasn’t as if BC turned the ball over in one method or another or even in excess, it was pretty well spread out, but watching the game I couldn’t help but notice how the design of the Eagle four out/one in offense is essentially a bad fit to go against the pack line and then of course how efficient Virginia was in converting those turnovers into points.
Yes, that defense is a problem for most teams, but let’s look at a few reasons why and how that contributed to this particular loss.
Design of the pack line:
Like most good defenses, the effectiveness of the pack line starts on the offensive end of the floor.
Virginia plays the game at an extremely slow pace. In fact, after last night, the Cavaliers are the second to last ranked team in America at pace of play (now ahead of only St Mary’s (CA) by 0.1 possessions per game) at a paltry 62.9 per game. BC on the other hand is #74 at 74.6 per game. It only goes to reason that fewer possessions equates to fewer points with fewer shot opportunities.
Virginia doesn’t view offensive rebounding as critical to their overall offensive game. Virginia generally sends just one player to the offensive glass and that attributes to their #314 ranking in the country in offensive rebounds per game. They are focused on getting five men back and set defensively.
Playing against even an average defense five on five is a tough way to make a living offensively. If you consider what your general shooting percentage is (BC currently is at 45.2% for the season) and remove fast break points and shots garnered from offensive rebounds where you are generally close to the basket, that percentage will drop down 10-12 points or more, so most, but not all, 1⁄2 court offenses are fairly inefficient.
Then you have the overarching principle of the pack line to get the ball stopped early on drives, the whole help and recover idea. Virginia is willing to give up contested jump shots to shut down dribble penetration. Off ball defenders are thinking help first and help early to shut down those drives before the ball gets into the lane. They then are taught that they still need to recover and contest. This makes it tough to get anything in the lane off dribble drives and although you may get some open jumpers, or even layups, those shots are generally under duress.
Design of the 4 out/1 in:
What the Eagles run conversely, although there are some set play concepts out of it, is a modified version of a dribble drive set with four wing style players on the perimeter and one post who works between a dead low post option and a high ball screen/roll option.
The primary focus of the set then is to get players attacking the rim off the dribble or penetrate and pitch to the perimeter for threes. BC gets some mid range jump shots, but most of their shots are paint touches or three pointers.
In a true dribble drive offense, one of the main concepts is to open up what is called a double gap, in other words a wider area for the dribbler to attack between him and the next closest defender.
With what BC does, although it is not always the case, leaves BC in a box set, with two toward the corner and two up top. You can see with that setup, no matter which direction BC drives the ball, the help defender is really never that far away and has a reasonably short distance to help and then to recover back to his offensive player.
Dribble drive offenses thrive when they actually overload a side, putting a third offensive player on the opposite side from the ball. This usually happens off another person’s dribble drive and then it creates a gap between the next defender of twice the size that existed in that box set. This means a longer way for that help to come and of course to recover, so your chances of getting a clean look improve.
There were several times last night that BC drove into single gaps and UVA provided help, but the offensive player who was helped off of stood there rather than further widening out to create a bit more space. The ball got stopped, the recovery was quick and the shot contested.
Of course, the more this happened, the more frustrated BC got and slowly they were choked into submission.
One other area of the BC offense that I have brought up in the past but I would definitely modify is where that low post player goes. Popovic definitely shows potential to score around the rim, but Tava and Jeffers are not guys you can consistently direct enter the ball to and score. No Akeem Olajuwon’s in this group.
What they also do by being on the ball side is clog up driving lanes. It happened multiple times last night and most nights where a wing or corner drive runs in to the post or post defender.
Keeping that post player opposite the ball side would really help. It would open up that driving lane, provide more offensive rebound opportunities as 80% of missed shots go opposite and because the help then would come from their defender, essentially make them uncovered scoring options requiring them just to lay the ball in. If you recall the Providence game, this is how Mo Jeffers went on his run in the second half as none of it was via direct post.
Bottom line, UVA is a really solid defensive team that puts themselves in positions both at the offensive end and defensive end to first and foremost defend the basket, but some of the design of what the Eagles do makes it more challenging to attack in the half court where it already isn’t that easy to score.