Tony Bennett's not Rick Barnes, Tubby Smith or Jeff Capel but he is an excellent basketball coach and a great hire by Virginia. If you think otherwise, you are either a victim of East Coast Bias or you don't understand basketball.
Bennett, who turns 40 in June, gives Virginia a young coach, who has already been successful at the highest Division I level, with a likable personality (the opposite of Dave Leitao), a discernible style of play and an ability to teach his system.
What else is there? Oh, yeah, he played three seasons in the NBA (with the Charlotte Hornets). Every team outside of UNC, Duke, Maryland and Boston College would be ecstatic to have such a combination in their head coach.
Two reasons Virginia fans should like Bennett:
1) Any idea how hard it is to win at Washington State? In the 66 seasons before Bennett succeeded his father, Dick, as the head coach in 2006, the Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament four times and won three games.
Bennett took the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament twice in three seasons, going 3-2 in the 2007 and 2008 tournaments.
You think it will be a little easier to recruit at Virginia, with access to DC, Baltimore and the Tidewater areas than it was in Pullman, Wash., where Bennett was fighting UCLA and Washington for the Seattle leftovers?
2) If "UNC" or "Duke" is not on the front of your jersey, you have to be different. You're not going to out-recruit those two schools for the elite talent in the country. You have to have a niche, whether it's a unique offense or defense.
In four years, Leitao failed established any identity for the program, other than his abusive sideline behavior. You'll recognize what Bennett is trying to do in the first preseason game.
Bennett uses the same defensive system his father did at Wisconsin, and Bo Ryan still does. The Bennetts took Wisconsin went to the Final Four in 2000 with their "Pack Line" defense. A shifting zone that prevents dribble penetration and forces the opposition to take contested outside shots. The Cougars have led the country in scoring defense the past two seasons, allowing less than 57 points per game.
It's not unlike Syracuse's 2-3 zone, only Bennett's teams don't play as up-tempo on offense. Bennett understands his style can be classified as boring but he calls it "good" basketball.
"In a nutshell I'd say, [we] make the other team work to get contested shots and [we] work to get good shots," Bennett said in Charlotte last year before the Cougars lost to UNC in the Sweet 16.
And, as a bonus, Bennett's personality doesn't match his philosophy. Unlike other coaches' sons, Bennett's not a basketball nerd who only understands Xs and Os. In one week in Charlotte at the NCAA Tournament last year, he showed more personality at the podium than most coaches do in 10 years. -- J.P. Giglio