The Virginia basketball team entered its annual exam break with an 8-1 record after a 76-53 romp against East Carolina. With 10 days between games, fans have taken the time to revisit the solid start, the looming challenges ahead, and more.
The Sabre pulled some fan questions for the “Ask The Sabre” series to take a closer look at these exam break ponderings. This series is presented by our newest sponsor Bundoran Farm, where you can Create Your Virginia Legacy. To see the “Ask The Sabre” articles in the archives, just click here. Visit Bundoran Farm here.
This edition features several questions on offense and exams. Let’s go!
What’s the practice schedule during exams? How often does the team get to practice? ~ HOOserName
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: A couple of years back, coach Tony Bennett said that he shifted to an every other day type of schedule during exams. This year, it’s a little bit different but not much. Bennett said on his radio show Tuesday night that the team got two days off after the East Carolina game. After that, the schedule went two days on and one day off in sequence. The last two days before the Robert Morris days are prep days for that game.
What are/should we fans be looking for in Saturday’s game? Is this more of a “shake off the rust” game after exams? Is it a fine tuning game with the line-ups/rotations leading up to the bigger Cal game? Do we see more minutes from the freshmen? Your thoughts? ~ The_Hoo
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: If all goes well, a Cavalanche at some point. Robert Morris enters this game at 3-8, but with a full week off to prep for Virginia. Statistically, this is not the kind of team that gives UVA trouble. Less assists than turnovers. 32.2% 3-point shooting. The 32% offensive rebounding rate is the only thing that looks like a major challenge.
So with that said, I think the areas of focus are lineup combinations (do the Hoos stick to the pre-exam mixes or shuffle some things around?), paint touches (do the Hoos give low touches on post-ups or look to create the paint touches in other ways?), and rebounding activity (do the Hoos look hungry on the glass?).
How much and in what areas do each of the coaching staff contribute? Scouting, defense, offense, individual skills, etc.? ~ hooinblueville
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Let me emphasize up front, its is a collective effort so that no one is doing any heavy lifting solo in any area. The coaches work in unison on a lot of things day to day. Football, of course, is a different animal due to the number of positions and number of players on the roster so dividing offense and defense or receivers and running backs makes sense. That’s not as true for basketball.
With that said, opponent scouting duties rotate through the staff with one person being the point person for the next game on the schedule. As far as individual skills go, Ron Sanchez and Jason Williford do a lot with the posts, while Brad Soderberg works with the guards. That’s a shared work load too, especially over the long haul, though. The assistants also handle things like inbounds plays (in the halfcourt) so if you watch closely during a game, you might see an assistant calling out the inbounds play for the Hoos and not Coach Bennett.
Overall, it’s a group effort in every area. Plus, keep in mind there are video and development assistants helping behind the scenes by cutting up and organizing clips and so on too.
Should we become more perimeter oriented or try to remain a balanced team and hope one or more of our bigs develop into consistent inside scoring threats? ~ NycHOOps
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I think these next two are interesting questions. Why? It’s clear that Virginia fans remain at least a little concerned with the offense and where production will come from this season. Most of the concern comes from the expected losses of Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey plus the unexpected departure of Austin Nichols.
With that said, the Cavaliers entered the exam break scoring 1.15 points per possession, good enough for 15th nationally at the time of this article. That’s more efficient than any team in the last 5 years finished, but is of course padded at this point in the season because a lot of the schedule has come against overmatched teams. The two toughest tests from Power 5 opponents Ohio State and West Virginia showed some flaws as UVA managed just 1.00 and 0.95 points per possession in those two games respectively.
So back to the question. Does Virginia need to become more perimeter oriented or try to develop a post scoring threat? I take ‘perimeter oriented’ to mean more 3-pointers and more drives via floor spacing and on-ball screens. I also assume an inside scoring threat to mean someone that can be given the ball near the paint and then create his own shot.
Coach Bennett addressed this a little bit on his radio show, suggesting that the team needed to find ways or players to create more inside offense. That, to me, indicates that becoming a high volume 3-point team or a dribble drive team is not in the works. Nor should it be. I’m not sure that Virginia has the right kind of guards to become a pure dribble drive team. As for the 3-point rate? The Hoos are at 33.9%. That’s the highest rate since 2010-2011 team shot 36.2% of its shots from behind the arc.
It seemed early on in the season that the offense was very simplified, which is perhaps to be expected given the surprising exit of Austin Nichols just before the season started. It looks like the offense might be opening up a bit more now. Would love to hear your thoughts on the offense so far this year and where you see it going? ~ TheGrinch
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: This sort of builds on the question above. I’m interested to see how the offense evolves with this team too. So far, UVA has stuck mainly to its two basic motion sets – ‘sides’ motion with three cutters and two screeners and 3-man motion with 3 interior players worked off of unplanned actions – and a handful of quick hitters. The exam break, however, represents the first significant time to make adjustments since the Nichols’ news.
After the program dismissed Nichols on Nov. 18, Virginia played 7 games in 18 days. In addition to NCAA mandated days off from practice, the Hoos also squeezed in the travel time to Florida for the Emerald Coast Classic. Simply put, that’s not a whole lot of time to make adjustments to a major shift in personnel. The exam break, even with days off, is different because the Cavaliers will have had 6 practices in a row without a game.
I’ve had one main thought floating in my mind about the offense since the Nichols’ news. Does UVA need to manufacture ways to get post points? By manufacture, I mean screen and rolls (post sets an on-ball screen for the dribbler and then plays out of it), slip screens (post fakes an on-ball screen and attacks out of it), and curl and dumps (guard curls off an off-ball screen and drops off a pass to the screener after the catch). All of those have roles in the current ‘sides’ motion base offense, but have not always been used at a high rate in recent seasons. Does this team need more of those plans to get points in the paint from the posts?
It will be interesting to watch.
I noticed that when teams have played us zone that Salt is free over the top roaming the baseline from side to side. Since he’s shown very good hands why are we not going ‘over the top’ to him? ~ Charleston Cav
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Without looking at specific examples of when you saw this particular opening, I suspect the answer is that the pass is not as open as it looks from the higher level seats or TV angle. The player that slides behind the zone may appear open, but with any pressure on the ball plus any long defenders along the baseline, the over the top pass becomes much more difficult. Typically, oop passes against the zone come from back-side screening action or from dribble penetration because those two things can eliminate the defender responsible for the rotation. Simply throwing it up to go get it does not.
Fans have discussed establishing a ‘regular rotation,’ which to me signifies players receiving a relatively stable number of minutes per game, as well as having what I would call established points of entry, e.g. being a starter, being the first player off the bench, subbing in for a certain player, etc. Due to our depth, I think we have the ability to significantly adjust the nature of the team on the floor by leveraging the unique skill set each player brings. Do we need more ball-handling? Etc. Etc. …
My question is this: how detrimental is it for a player not to receive a set number of minutes, or not to come in at an expected time? … More broadly, do you think that having a variety of lineups would not allow the team to establish an identity, and thereby be harmful to its long-term success? ~ 105A
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: As you’d expect, the answer here is layered. I’m going to try answer in bite-size nuggets.
Regular rotation … roles. I think the most important part here is for players to understand what their primary job on the team is regardless of when that job begins (starter vs. sub at first media timeout or what have you). With that said, some of a player’s role may be tied specifically to a spot in the rotation. For example, Ty Jerome’s backup minutes for London Perrantes may come at a specific time zone each game (right before the under 8 media timeout) with the role being to take care of the ball and manage the game for 2 to 3 minutes.
In another example, the rotation spot may not change the role. Coach Bennett has said that Marial Shayok is offensive-minded and he likes that aspect coming off the bench. For Shayok, that means his job is to come in and be aggressive in hunting for spots on offense. I don’t think that role would change as a starter though. It’s just important for Shayok to be aggressive regardless of when his minutes come.
No matter how you look at it, having clear roles is a big piece of the puzzle because roles are what create a team identity more than anything else.
Regular rotation … minutes. With that said, I do think it is extremely important for a player to get regular minutes in order to feel comfortable on the floor. Offense and defense both require a lot of timing and rhythm so only coming in for sporadic minutes to varying degrees from game to game is a lot harder to manage as a player. In a lot of ways, having a set rotation plan – first post sub at 15:00 in the first half for example – helps clearly define minutes, but it’s not a necessity in my mind.
Adjustments/lineup variety. Having versatility on the roster is a great tool … provided that the tool has been sharpened. In other words, as long as the various scenarios have been practiced and evaluated, then being able to shift on the fly within a game could be beneficial and possibly more beneficial than having a regular rotation and plan in place. The best example from last season would be UVA’s use of ‘small ball’ lineups with Malcolm Brogdon defending the other team’s stretch forward. The Cavaliers prepped for that move and then fine-tuned it through January and February. They didn’t go to the lineup at a set time each game, but it proved beneficial when they did make the move at points in games.