The Washington Times - March 31, 2009, 07:11PM

Been wrapping my mind around Virginia‘s hire of Tony Bennett in the last day or so, and the surprise of that choice has worn off a bit.

So with that out of the way (but not the introductory press conference just yet), the question remains: How will Bennett and the pack-line approach fare in the ACC?


If nothing else, it will make Virginia a headache to prepare for. There really was never a distinguishing characteristic about the Cavaliers through the Dave Leitao years. You knew Sean Singletary could do some interesting things. Ditto for J.R. Reynolds. But beyond those guys, no basketball junkie got amped to see the Cavaliers, because they were just sort of blah.

At least in the Pete Gillen years (or for most of them, anyway), you knew you would get a fast tempo and you knew Gillen would blow through his timeouts at warp speed. There was always something entertaining about both.

Bennett surely won’t be putting up many 80-point games in Charlottesville. Guys who play defense will be at a premium (there’s hope for Solomon Tat yet!), and year one should bring some ugly games.

How ugly? Well, Dick Bennett‘s first season at Washington State saw the Cougars score less than 50 points on seven occasions —- including one frightful 46-29 loss at a sub-.500 Fresno State team.

Tony Bennett has more talent to work to start with in Charlottesville with than his dad did in Pullman, but he’s coming into a very different neighborhood. In Papa Bennett‘s first season at Wazzu, only three Pac-10 teams reached the NCAA tournament. Just four had winning records (this was also the year of Ben Howland‘s first UCLA team, which was not-so-good). Next year’s ACC will be better than that.

Assuming the folks residing in Lord Groh‘s manorial plain are patient —- a big, big if —- Bennett should start to pay dividends by his second or third season. There’s no reason Virginia can’t be a mid-pack ACC team on a regular basis; the resources are certainly there for the Cavaliers to be better than Virginia Tech.

(This is the point where it should be noted that the Hokies have a coach who extracts nearly as much as he can given his locale, facilities and attention paid to his program).

But back to Bennett Ball. While the guardians of The Greatness of the ACC might be miffed to see a muck-it-up approach enter the league, it will be something different and difficult to deal with. It can also be a great equalizer, a style of play that will give an advantage to whoever can coach up his players for specific situations better than others. In other words, don’t bet on Bennett having Coach K’s number any time soon.

Is this a move that will vault Virginia to the top of the ACC? No, but really, the only way that’s going to happen regularly is either if Duke and North Carolina secede from the league to create the Confederate Coast Conference or if Bennett and athletic director Craig Littlepage‘s notary public for the contract happens to be Lucifer.

That said, Virginia went young, savvy, smart and established. It might not look like the greatest move on paper and isn’t a splashy pick, but going with substance over style will win out in the long run for the Cavaliers.

—- Patrick Stevens