BROOKLYN – Playing against the Virginia Pack-Line defense is like walking through a wind storm. You can feel it swirling around you, twisting and turning around every corner. You try to shield yourself only to get a gust that knocks you off balance.
Playing against the Virginia offense is more like walking through a snow storm. You have to trudge around and exert a lot of energy just to get anywhere. You do your best to stay on course, but the slightest slip means you have to start all over again.
In both cases, the challenges are known and the dangers easy to recognize. The only problem is you don’t know exactly when or where they’re coming from. A blast of air or a deeper pocket of snow pop up out of nowhere and you can’t do much except put your head down and try to power through it.
It’s exhausting. The Cavaliers love every bit of it.
“We’re going to sit down, we’re going to guard you, we’re going to grind you on the offensive end and take what shots we have,” UVA redshirt senior Devon Hall said.
The fans too embrace the determination needed to do what Virginia does. That’s why the Hoo fans shout when someone like Jack Salt tips out an offensive rebound or when Isaiah Wilkins dives head first with his team leading by double digits. It’s why the noise grows when the shot clock ticks away.
And it’s certainly why fans stand and applaud with a special fervor when that buzzer goes off. They enjoyed the show and they’re exalting their team with hopes of seeing it again. Encore! Encore!
It can all catch less familiar observers a bit off guard. A reporter asked UVA coach Tony Bennett on Friday night about the defensive roars from the crowd at the Barclays Center.
“You’ve never been to a game at the John Paul Jones arena, I can tell, so we’ll have to get you a ticket so you can come,” Bennett said. “They like it when we get stops. That’s what we try to do. And that’s what our great crowd – they appreciate these guys laying it on the line.”
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The approach has its detractors, mainly through the prism of the single-elimination tournaments that end college basketball season. Simply put, can such a grinding style weather the storm too? The Hoos made the ACC Tournament Semifinals for the fourth time in five years this week and after Friday’s 64-58 win against Clemson, they’ll play in the title game for the third time in the past five years as well.
In next week’s NCAA Tournament, Virginia will again enter as a No. 1 seed. The program has won a game in the Big Dance for four straight years too, one of just nine teams to do that. The Cavaliers have made the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in that span. Under Bennett, UVA has posted a 9-3 record in the ACC Tournament during the last five years. In five NCAA Tournament appearances, the record is 7-5 with this year’s event still to come. The one NIT appearance in there produced a 2-1 record as well.
Overall starting from the 2011-12 season when Bennett first guided UVA into the NCAA Tournament field, Virginia owns an 18-11 record in postseason tournaments. So yes, the Cavaliers win in the postseason. More often than not. Whether that means the Virginia storm front will blow all the way to another ACC Tournament title or a Final Four or a National Championship, well, like most weather, that’s hard to predict in the win or go home world of March.
The Hoos will just keep grinding either way.
“I think tournament basketball, it’s about the possessions matter,” Bennett said Thursday. “We talk about this, and we just have been talking about … not to overcomplicate it, just to try to prepare well, and preparing well is how we rest, how we watch film and get ready for whoever we play next, try to improve from the things we saw, and then when the ball is tipped, really be ready to go and play at our highest. We’re a possession-by-possession team. That doesn’t change. I don’t know if that sets itself up for this. But records are out now, and it’s just teams can play at a high level. … I think our guys understand how we have to be.”