By Charles Jay
I was surprised to have recently found that Dick Bennett, an outstanding coach for years at Wisconsin-Green Bay, then Wisconsin and ultimately Washington State, pretty much went to school on the writings of Bob Knight when he first got into the coaching ranks. That means he studied – hard – the principles of Knight’s help defense, which of course had their roots in the teachings of the legendary (for the cognoscenti) Al LoBalbo, who had been an assistant to Knight at West Point.
Jack Bennett, Dick’s brother and a legendary (though rather unknown) coach himself, having once led Wisconsin-Stevens Point to back-to-back national Division III titles, says that Dick knew all about Knight’s aggressive man-to-man defense (not to mention the motion offense) backward and forward. And he used it as the basis upon which he operated, adding a few tweaks along the way.
By now, we know about the tweaks, don’t we?
Dick Bennett later went on to coach against his exemplar in the Big Ten, when he was with the Badgers and Knight was at Indiana. And his team famously ended the school’s 31-game losing streak to the Hoosiers.
No doubt his familiarity with Knight’s way of doing things played a part.
There is also no doubt that he passed all of this onto his son Tony, who up until a few days ago was the single-season scoring leader at Green Bay and now can deliver the highlight of his coaching career with a victory for his Virginia Cavaliers against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Our point is, if Tony has learned his lessons well, there won;t be anything in the slightest bit surprising about what Texas Tech does, primarily because it is an offshoot of what Red Raider coach Chris Beard picked up when he was serving seven years as Knight’s assistant in a previous tour of duty in Lubbock.
And while his dad may be too nervous to go to some of these games, you can bet he’s in the background, drilling words of wisdom into his prize pupil, who will have to cover a small number, as it is posted by the good folks at BetAnySports:
Virginia Cavaliers -1.5
Texas Tech Red Raiders +1.5
Over 118 points -110
Under 118 points -110
Realistically, there isn’t likely to be too many surprises on either side, because the Pack Line defense, which Dick Bennett ultimately devised after refining some of what he learned from Knight, involves some similar principles, in the respect that the main objective is to prevent the opponent from penetrating the middle and thus breaking down the defense from that angle. So opponents are forced to look to the outside and to the baseline to get good shots off – that is, unless a Virginia player is able to make up the two feet he is stationed inside the “Pack Line,” an imaginary line inside the three-point circle, and “close out”: on the shooter.
How successful has Virginia been? Well, they are third in the nation in scoring defense, fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency (according to an analytics site called KenPom) and third against three-point shooting, allowing just 28.7%. This is no accident and it’s not a one-off; if you look at Tony’s 13-year coaching career, you’ll see that only twice has his team (whether it’s Virginia or Washington State) been outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency.
Chris Beard’s team takes a little more aggressive posture, in that Texas Tech is dedicated to meeting every pass and contesting every shot with a man-to-man frenzy. It’s what Knight taught Beard, except it sometimes operates like it’s on steroids.
Texas Tech is the #1 team in the category of Adjusted Defensive Efficiency – by a clear margin. They are ninth-best against triples and second against two-pointers. You have to have not just a great scheme and great technique to be in that position, you also have to have a lot of length and athleticism too. And it goes without saying that you have to have a coach who pays a lot of attention to detail.
We often hear about teams that have strung together a number of games where they are hot fro the field and appear to be in a “groove.” But this, we might suggest, works from a defensive standpoint as well, as concerns Texas Tech, which, in five tournament games, have held Northern Kentucky to their second lowest point total of the season, Gonzaga to their third lowest (69, against a team averaging 88 to lead the nation) and Buffalo, Michigan and Michigan State to THE lowest point total each of those nationally-ranked teams has had. That’s not an accident either.
And they have come firing out of the locker room after the halftime break, rolling up a +10 margin PER GAME in the second half, with that difference essentially all coming in the first ten minutes of those halves. Translation – Beard knows how to make halftime adjustments. His team has covered eight consecutive second half pointspreads in NCAA Tournament competition. And, with respect to those “surprises” we said might not be present earlier in this piece , Beard is much more likely to have those for Bennett in the second half than the other way around.
These are just some of the reasons that as we continue with WagerWAR, the battle for the World WagerSport Ultimate Championship, we like Texas Tech to win their first national title and make “The General” very proud too see his pupil (the DIRECT pupil, that is) reach the summit.
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