Tony Bennett Found His Heart in… Charlottesville?Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2009
Ben of Dear Old UVa stopped by today to give his takes on their brand spanking new head coaching hire, Tony Bennett.
Now that everyone’s gotten over the initial shock of Bennett’s surprise – to say the least – hire. Virginia need to know what to expect from a Tony Bennett-coached team. Well, there’s good and there’s bad.
Under Bennett, the Washington State Cougars were an excellent basketball team. A very underrated, excellent team.
Many media pundits laud Bennett for his defense. They’re right too. WSU allowed 55.4 points per game this year, one of the fewest in the Pac-10. Also, WSU finished in the top 20 in terms of defense efficiency each of the three years. They were either first or second in the Pac-10 in defensive efficiency.
The man clearly knows how to coach defense. His teams were well-organized and gritty. I know the Pac-10 gets a reputation as being soft, but last year it was one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA and Bennett’s WSU helped make it that way. They don’t make you turn it over, just force you to take bad shots.
In two years, Bennett had two 26 win seasons. The Cougars were a 3-seed in 2007 and 4-seed in 2008. They were bounced by UNC pretty soundly last year in the Sweet Sixteen.
This year wasn’t an NCAA tournament year, but there’s no reason – given a few bounces here or there – that it couldn’t have been. The Cougars lost close games to UCLA, USC, and Washington, all of which were NCAA tournament teams.
So, in three years, Tony Bennett has compiled a fairly impressive record for an unknown program.
I immediately thought of this when my lovely wife (you’re famous now!) excitedly told me that UVa had hired Bennett: pace. Bennett’s teams are like the snail in the ol’ tortoise-versus-hare tale. Don’t remember the snail? That’s because he finished 12th.
On the way to the pantry, molasses passed Bennett’s teams. Twice.
For the Virginia fan expecting an exciting, fast-breaking team, they will be sorely, sorely disappointed. WSU finished 319th, 335th, and 322nd in pace. The Cougars walk the ball up and make their opponents play in the half court. For an athletic director looking to put fannies in their seats, you have to wonder about this hire.
Wins put fannies in the seats, and if Bennett can win, people won’t care what the game looks like. If he can’t, people aren’t going to understand why the game looks as ugly as it does.
Then, there’s the issue of the Cougar’s offense this year. The defense was there, as it was last year, but the offense went from 26th in the country to 120th in terms of offensive efficiency. Could he right the ship with a different squad? For a team (Virginia) that was pretty horrible on the offensive end this year, it really raises some questions about how he’s planning on turning this team around.
Finally, there’s the question of his talents.
To me, Bennett has the same problem that Anthony Grant and notably, Dave Leitao had, but Tubby Smith or Fran McCaffery (and, to be fair Billy Gillispie’s here, too) didn’t: Bennett hasn’t won at separate times in his career. Did he win at WSU because he had a masterstroke of luck with one recruiting class or because he really is the genuine article?
I don’t know the answer to that question and neither does the Virginia athletic department.
All in all, it might be a good hire for Virginia, but it sure seems like an impulsive one to me. They only got permission to talk to the guy on Friday. He must’ve wowed them.
Again, I’m not saying Virginia was wrong to hire the guy. I also think that this team is fertile ground for a lot of success. Perhaps Bennett can take this team to the next level. He does need enough time to get his system going. So, let’s hope that Virginia’s athletic department has some patience.
It’ll certainly be interesting to hear the back story on how he got hired.
Good luck, Mr. Bennett. The Virginia athletic department is a strange place to be right now.