Head Coach Tony Bennett Has Virginia Ready To Contend In ACC


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Defense has Coach Tony Bennett. and VA team prepared to win in ACC

With conference play beginning in less than a month, ACC standings will continue to vary from now until March. Unless of course your UNC or Duke.(or Puke, as we say here at KIH) Anything below those 2 may be a toss-up come tourney time.

The team currently 3rd in the ACC, is the 9-1 Virginia Cavaliers who appear ready to take the next step under Head Coach Tony Bennett.

After his first two unsuccessful, yet improving seasons, Bennett now has his team playing competitive and winning heading into conference play. The pedigree for defense and smart basketball was something that Tony learned from his father.  Longtime Wisconsin legend and former basketball coach Dick Bennett.

If we wanted to talk about all the great things in Men’s College Basketball the senior Bennett has done, it would take too long! Lets just say, Dick Bennett was Wisconsin’s B+ version of Dean Smith growing up, minus of course Micheal Jordan or any real pipeline of consistent NBA talent. Still, he built a winner in Madtown.

The 42 year old Tony Bennett has had success as both a player and coach in Collegiate basketball.

As a Guard at the University of Wis-Green Bay, Bennett played at a high level from 1988-1992. After being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets 35th overall in ’92, a nagging foot injury ended his pro career prematurely in ’95. He still ranks #1 all-time in NCAA history with a 49.7 %career 3pt FG.

After a short stint as an assistant at UW-GB, he followed his father out of retirement to join him at Washington State as an assistant. Deemed the predecessor from the start, Tony took over for his father Dick Bennett in 2006 once he retired.

While at Wash State, Tony Bennett was now making a name for himself. He lead the Cougar’s to 2 straight NCAA tournament appearances, a sweet 16 birth, and won AP Coach of the Year in 2008.

After only moderate success in a short time at WSU, in March of 2009, Bennett left for the University of Virginia HC job. Since his hiring, he has continued to turn the basketball program around, each year ending with more wins than the previous. Fast forward to today, Virginia may be ready to contend in the ACC.

6’8 senior forward Mike Scott has bought in and is playing at an All-ACC level. Averaging just shy of a double-double, he will be key to their continued success rebounding and scoring. Along with guards Joe Harris and Sammy Zeglinski, the experience and defense of this team will lead them into March.

The main drive in the success of Virginia thus far is team defense, one thing coach Bennett’s teams have always done. His goal is shoot above 60%, hold teams under 50%, and play outstanding defense as a unit. Though maintaining a high shooting % offensively has proven difficult, at least one goal is being accomplished. Only 17 teams, in his first 75 games coached, have shot over 50% from the field in a game against Bennett’s Cavaliers. Also, Virginia’s defense is first in the nation in offensive rebounds allowed per game.

Virginia will definitely face big tests come ACC play, but their defense may keep them in most of those match ups. I look at their schedule and see 6 key road games. At Duke, Georgia Tech, and NC State all in January, while visits to Chapel Hill, FSU, and Clemson all come in February.  With all those road games spread throughout each month, if VA can win 3-4 they will be hard to turn down come selection time in March. Home games to me are always a must win, but with that said, if Virginia can only lose 2 at home they will be in good shape. When UNC visits VA in late February (2/25/12), it may be the only ranked team they see at home all year.(Due to a weak VA schedule and ACC overall this year)

A sleeper pick this season, at least from me, will be Virginia in the ACC. If they can get to March, this UVA team reminds me of last years Florida State team,led by NBA draft pick and defensive stopper Chris Singleton. With great defense, timely buckets, and a solid team performance, those things VA does well will lead to big wins against top teams in the months to come.

Lets just hope UNC isn’t one of them!