Luke Neer WINA Sports
Through the first 4 years of Tony Bennett’s tenure in Charlottesville, the three point shot was the bread and butter of the Cavalier offense. Yet after a four game sample in the 2013-2014 season, it appears this year is all about production in the paint.
With a deep front court of Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, Virginia is equipped to score down low for 40 minutes of every game against any opponent. The four big men also bring defensive diversity to the table.
Following a 67-42 win over Navy on Nov. 19 Tony Bennett talked about his group of big men. “That four man front court that I’ve been playing is one of our strengths. I think Anthony and Mike are probably two of our better scorers but I like different combinations. Akil and Darion are probably a little ahead of those two defensively.”
Bennett also hinted at the possibility of putting out a tall lineup during certain stints this season. ”At times I might have to look at playing three of those four…going big…Because I think Akil can guard the perimeter if he’s got a good match-up.”
With Virginia, production down low isn’t limited to the big men. Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon are driving to the rim early and often this season off the dribble. Brogdon is currently leading the team in scoring with 12.3 ppg and is the most reliable Cavalier from the foul line.
Against VCU, it was Harris finding his way through traffic for lay-ins for the majority of his points. And Justin Anderson, though quiet in his first few games offensively, is a viable a threat to attack the basket.
Due to the rule changes in college basketball concerning contact on the defensive end, driving to the hoop has never been more valuable. Mike Tobey talked about it after the loss to VCU. “Since the way they were calling the fouls, If we could get to the rim we could at least get a foul and get to the line.”
All in all, Virginia has a wealth of scoring options in the lane. And for the first time in recent memory the team isn’t built on perimeter shooting. This is also the first Cavalier squad in some time that can match athleticism with any of the teams in the ACC. However, three point shooting remains a necessity in order to create interior space and driving lanes.
Tony Bennett commented, “We’re not a great shooting team, but my hope is that we’re solid enough to give some spacing.”
In the win over Navy Joe Harris started to find a long-range groove. Malcolm Brogdon is also shooting an outstanding fifty percent from beyond the arc. And if the rest of the Cavaliers can follow suit, we could have some potent inside-out basketball on our hands.