Tony Bennett is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball, and he should be.
When Bennett took the helm at Virginia in 2009 — he was tasked with rebuilding a program that became accustomed to mediocrity. The Wahoos are now a consistent national title contender and one of the top programs in the country year in and year out.
But how should Virginia be viewed right now, less than a month before Selection Sunday? There are obvious red flags that need to be addressed over the next few weeks. Bennett’s group has dropped three of its last five games. That’s concerning enough, but even more eye-catching is the way Virginia is losing.
The Wahoos held double-digit leads in all three contests, but allowed late surges from their opponents that resulted in losses. In the past, Bennett’s record when holding a double-digit lead at halftime almost always meant a victory. That’s not the case as of late.
By the way, UVA is 76-2 when holding a double digit lead at the half under Tony Bennett. Both losses to Syracuse in the last 10 months.
— Seth Goldberg (@sethgoldberg17) February 5, 2017
In the Villanova game, a three-point jumper by Devon Hall gave Virginia a comfortable 45-32 edge with 13:38 remaining. Missed shots and turnovers gave the Wildcats life and Villanova won, 61-59.
The Syracuse tilt was a similar narrative. Virginia owned the first 20 minutes and entered halftime with a convincing 34-22 lead. The ‘Hoos broke down in the second half and allowed a furious comeback. Syracuse won, 34-22.
So on Sunday night, as Virginia entered halftime leading Virginia Tech 37-23, maybe we should have seen it coming. The Hokies made shots while the ‘Hoos missed everything in site. Virginia Tech claimed the double overtime win.
If this kind of thing happens once, it can be chalked up to a bad night. But this is a trend and the stats are telling.
Let’s focus on the Virginia Tech game for a moment.
|Period||FG %||3 PT %||FT %|
This paints a pretty clear picture. As the game progresses, Virginia gets worse in every statistical category. Their opponents begin to break through the defense — Virginia’s staple — and the ‘Hoos offense can’t keep up. These are just stats from one game, but in all three comebacks, it’s the same deal. We didn’t even touch turnovers or rebounds.
Bennett has carved a reputation for bringing a stifling defense and it’s worked. But when the opponent finds it’s rhythm, is his offense good enough to adjust and play catch up? Right now, it’s not.
For Bennett and his bunch, the road doesn’t get any easier over the next week. On Wednesday night the Wahoos will host Duke, a squad that is finally playing its best. The final regular season stretch will also feature two games against North Carolina — arguably the top team in the ultra competitive ACC.
If Virginia wants to make another significant March run, it needs to fix the second-half woes.