When Tony Bennett began his tenure as Virginia‘s coach, the Cavaliers were the slow team in a fast conference. In his first season, they ranked 317th out of 347 teams in possessions per game, and have only gotten slower since. The ACC was the ninth-fastest league that year, making a 16-15 Virginia team even more of an outlier, but the Cavaliers finished 5-11 in the ACC. Fast forward four years: Bennett’s team finds itself at 10-1 in ACC play and controlling its own destiny for a conference title by staying true to the methodical offense and stifling defense that has become a family trademark.
In fact, when asked about the walk-it-up tempo employed by his team in a 60-possession win at Georgia Tech on Saturday, he quickly mentioned his father, Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett played for his father at Wisconsin–Green Bay and then coached under him at Wisconsin and Washington State. The younger Bennett learned well the lessons of his father, considered by his peers a master tactician. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn wrote the primer on the defensive style at the heart of both Bennetts’ success. When the elder Bennett went to the Pac-10 in 2003, his son said Saturday, he found himself as the coach of the slow team in a fast conference. But then Ben Howland came to UCLA, among others, and the league’s pace slowed toward Bennett’s preferred crawl. A similar transition has moved to the ACC, where Virginia isn’t even the slowest team anymore. Miami is the slowest team in America; both Clemson and Syracuse rank among the most methodical 10 teams in the country; and the ACC has fewer possessions per game than any other conference. Virginia is a relatively quick 338th in tempo, but much more importantly to Bennett, his team ranks third in defensive efficiency.