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A brief look at Virginia’s mover-blocker and continuity offenses

The Cavaliers aren’t just about defense.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A few years ago I wrote about Virginia’s oft-discussed pack line defense, what it is and why it works. I won’t rehash or revise the post because Tony Bennett has remained notiriously consistent in his defensive principles, but if you’re at all interested, you can check out the post here.

This year, let’s talk about why the third-ranked Cavaliers — who haven’t lost to a team other than Duke this season — are so successful on the other end of the floor.

Just like on defense, Bennett’s offensive philosophy comes directly from his father, Dick Bennett. The elder Bennett created what he deemed the “Blocker-Mover Offense,” a variation of which serves as Virginia’s offensive foundation today.

The motion offense uses two screeners, or “blockers,” and three “movers.” For a visual example, check out the photo below where the movers are circled in red and the blockers in black.

In this offense, there should always be a mover at the top of the key and on both wings. The blockers will screen the lanes to set up either outside shots or backdoor cuts, and also give themselves an opportunity to pin their defenders and create their own scoring opportunities in the paint.

This is, obviously, an oversimplification of a motion offense that Bennett will tweak slightly in dozens of different ways to make the Cavaliers incredibly difficult to prepare for.

For a more extensive education, this video from Jordan Sperber is terrific.

What makes Virginia even more difficult to prepare for this season than in years past is that Bennett has also been heavily utilizing a continuity ball screen offense. The improved outside shooting of De’Andre Hunter, the addition of guards Braxton Key and Kihei Clark, as well as the increased presence of Jay Huff — a 7’1 center who’s shooting above 50 percent from beyond the arc — have all made this a more attractive option for Bennett than in some past seasons.

This is the trendy offense that sometimes gets labeled as “4 out, 1 in,” was popularized in Europe and has been slowly taking over basketball at every level over the past few years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Bennett chose to make it his own and is having some serious success with it this season.

To complicate things even more, during ACC play, UVA has even thrown out a few sets that are essentially a hybrid of the two offenses.

This is sort of like when Pitino’s best Louisville teams mastered the ability to switch defenses in the middle of a possession by the end of the season. It made them almost impossible to prepare for, and also confused and frustrated even the teams that had done the best scouting work.

Which offense Virginia relies more on has depended on the opponent in recent weeks. Against smaller teams like Virginia Tech and NC State, the Cavaliers relied far more heavily on the traditional Blocker-Mover offense. Against Duke, Bennett went with more (and had far more success with) Continuity Ball Screen sets.

These slight tweaks and the ability to mix and match have resulted in Virginia having the fourth-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency in the country as of today. For comparison’s sake, the Cavalier team that was the No. 1 overall seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament ranked 30th in the same category last season, and was 50th the year before.

Despite not having an elite rim protector, Louisville has defended the two slightly better than it has the three this season, although the difference is negligible. My guess is Saturday afternoon, Virginia starts with its traditional MB offense, runs a little but of CBO if they’re having any issues getting buckets, and then rolls with whichever is working better for the rest of the game.

Shoutout to Jordan Sperber for his terrific videos here. Follow him on Twitter and check out his channel on YouTube for more insightful basketball nerdom.