What should men’s basketball do with Tony Bennett? – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

What should men’s basketball do with Tony Bennett?  – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

Virginia men’s basketball lost by 25 points on March 19 to Colorado State in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers lost to No. 13 seed Furman in the first round a season ago, missed the tournament entirely in 2022 and fell to No. 13 seed Ohio in the first round in 2021. The program has not won a single game in the “Big Dance” since its national title in 2019, leaving questions about coach Tony Bennett’s future in Charlottesville.

Bennett is the greatest coach in Virginia men’s basketball history and will be lauded in Charlottesville lore long after he and the Cavaliers go their separate ways. However, confusing game management, peculiar personnel decisions, acute recruiting difficulties and disappointing results in the team’s biggest games over the past half-decade will have overshadowed some of its past accomplishments in the eyes of some Cavalier fans. Virginia men’s basketball has a big decision to make, and for the first time in his tenure, it’s Bennett.

The case for retaining Bennett

Virginia basketball is at a distinct recruiting disadvantage compared to other Power Conference schools. Throughout the program’s history, Virginia has had high academic standards for student-athletes. The athletic department requires degree progression rates per year higher than NCAA minimums, concentrates more on Olympic sports than other schools – with women’s swimming and diving being the main beneficiaries – and significantly so lack Zero funding in the power conference market. This reality would be a death sentence for another program.

Despite these drawbacks, Bennett has consistently recruited above the program’s historical average – Virginia has an average recruiting ranking of 40th since its first class in 2010, much better than its predecessors. The fifteenth-year coach has shown a remarkable ability to teach the game of basketball, consistently elevating mid-level recruiting classes and sending lesser-known recruits like Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson and others to successful careers in the NBA.

Bennett’s system also allows unknown rookies to shine. By rarely taking quick breaks and respecting offensive blocker-movers sets — a system developed by Bennett’s father, Dick Bennett — the team deprioritized speed, athleticism and isolation in favor of more analytical passing.

This allows Virginia to chase two types of prep players. The former are cerebral players who are undervalued due to limited physical traits – guard Kihei Clark is a prime example of an undersized but intelligent player who has thrived in Bennett’s ecosystem. The other type of player is a physical specimen with little basketball experience, like sophomore guard Ryan Dunn. Dunn was not highly recruited coming out of high school and almost had to walk on to the team as a rookie, but elite physical tools, high motor skills and teaching from Bennett turned him in a likely first-round draft pick this season.

Rankings and recruiting tactics aside, two facts make Bennett’s retention essential. The first is his record with the Cavaliers, which is a 364-136 record – 72.8 percent – ​​and one national championship over 15 years. Over the previous 15 years, Virginia had gone 247-209 and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament only once. Bennett presided over the greatest run in Cavalier basketball history, rivaled only when Ralph Sampson was on Grounds.

Second, no one gets more cheers entering John Paul Jones Arena than Bennett. Not Reece Beekman, not Clark, not Kyle Guy and not even Tristan How on senior night. Its popularity drives donations and fan engagement. This is Bennett’s agenda, and we all live by it.

With just he has two seasons left contract, it’s worth considering a mid-term extension — perhaps through 2030 — to keep the decorated coach in Charlottesville until he’s 60. You don’t find coaches like Bennett anywhere.

The arguments in favor of Bennett’s departure

Bennett was the perfect college basketball coach for the 2010s, but he may not be ideal as we enter the mid-2020s. Virginia is now a well-established program, but Bennett is holding the program back at certain respects. During the first two seasons after winning the National Championship, it appeared that the Cavaliers were simply going through a less successful period in the midst of the most successful period in program history. But with each passing season, the concern grows.

The offense is in desperate need of a software update – the block-and-shift system has been stagnant over the past few years, the team drop ranked 200th in offensive efficiency at KenPom. Too often, the ball moves aimlessly around the perimeter before the team’s point guard is forced to throw out a runner or pass for a contested jump shot. The most effective shots in basketball are shots at the rim or behind the three-point line. Virginie took less more than a third of their shots from each of those zones, instead settling for those low-percentage, low-reward jump shots from mid-range.

Bennett’s team also failed to generate or make an acceptable number of free throws, ranking nearly last in the country in free throw attempts and free throw percentage. This is an unsustainable approach that Bennett says needs to be changed following the First Four loss. Perhaps another coach with a more modern system could elevate Virginia’s current talent level.

The blocker-mover offense isn’t the only part of the scheme that seems to be dry rotting. Bennett would have been not wanting lead recruitment meetings with NIL. While this is a morally high path, it is also certainly a turn-off for highly rated prospects who have less accomplished basketball programs and present them with significantly better NIL packages.

Bennett has also kept his younger players on shorter leashes recently, as most of the program’s freshmen had to redshirt their first year and have only slowly built minutes. This lack of immediate playing time is another recruiting barrier that has the added consequence of pushing players into the transfer portal. Just this week, freshman guard Leon Bond III, who has been effective but underrated in the 2023-24 season, announcement on his Instagram story that he was leaving the program – others will surely follow.

Finally, Bennett has been hit or miss in the ever-increasing transfer portal. Virginia’s two least impressive rotation players this season — guards Andrew Rohde and Dante Harris — were both highly anticipated transfers who failed to live up to expectations. Each saw their playing minutes reduced as the season progressed.

There are a plethora of excellent coaches at the lower levels of high school and college basketball. Many would jump at the chance to take over a talented team with great support and access to the wealth of prep talent from Washington, D.C.’s three Final Four coaches – Dan Hurley of Connecticut, Kevin Keatts of NC State and Nate Oats of Alabama – only recently. left teaching high school and training part-time to coach at the Division I level. Although this idea may be uncomfortable for some, perhaps it is time to let a younger, hungrier coach take the reins from Bennett and lead the program into a new direction.


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