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Inspired by Green Bay, Virginia’s defense remains the key to success

22 February 2016: University of Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett during the game against the University of Miami in Miami's 64-61 victory at BankUnited Center, Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire

The Green Bay Packers finally lived up to Virginia basketball’s famed “Pack Line Defense” with a 27-13 Monday night over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s Green Bay roots – he played at Wisconsin-Green Bay for his father, Dick Bennett – are the football inspiration for the unique sagging man-to-man defense his father devised. Tony has taken his dad’s approach to an elite level in the ACC with the Cavaliers.

The Packers had embarrassed themselves with a four-game losing streak that yielded 153 points to opponents, but one win in Philadelphia is a far cry from the year-to-year defensive consistency Bennett’s teams show no matter who he plugs into the lineup.

If Virginia was going to take a step back from last year’s Elite Eight NCAA trip and back-to-back regular-season ACC titles in 2014 and 2015, this was expected to be the season. Bennett’s lineup lost Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year, along with Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey.

But as Virginia (6-0) prepares to host Ohio State (6-0) Wednesday in the Big Ten-ACC challenge, the Cavaliers have climbed to No. 6 in both the AP and USA Today polls. Ohio State is equal to No. 30 in the AP poll with 22 points among “others receiving votes.”

With a sagging defense that clogs the middle, the Cavaliers have found pieces to place around their two returning starters, senior point guard London Perrantes and junior forward Isaiah Wilkins.

Perrantes, a 6-foot-2, 197-pounder, averaged 11 points and 4.4 assists last year. He’s close to those numbers with 9.2 points and 4.3 and capable of much more once more of demanded of him in closer games.

Wilkins, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior, averaged only 4.6 points, but he can has the ability to average double figures while assuming a bigger role this year.

Memphis transfer Austin Nichols was supposed to plug a hole in the middle, but his dismissal from the team has not even distracted the Cavaliers.

Nichols, who ranked third in the nation with 3.4 blocks a game for the Tigers two years and sat out last season as a transfer, was dismissed after only one game. He did not start in the win over St. Francis. His 11 points and three rebounds in his only outing have been replaced.

Virginia began the preseason ranked No. 8 and has climbed two spots with the unbeaten start. Ohio State provides the Cavs their stiffest test of the year, although they are coming off an impressive weekend performance.

Virginia won the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla., without allowing a combined 100 points in two wins over Iowa and Providence. The Cavs beat Iowa 74-41 and Providence 63-52.

Virginia held three other opponents this year under 40 points, defeating St. Francis Brooklyn, 72-32; Yale, 62-38; and Grambling State, 90-34. UNC-Greenboro’s 51 points in a 25-point loss to the Cavs is the high-water mark.

Senior guard Darius Thompson (6-foot-4, 196 pounds) is leading the Cavaliers with 10 points a game. Junior guard Marial Shayok (6-foot-5, 196 pounds) is second at 9.5 coming off the bench. It’s the same role he played last year with valuable minutes in regular stints or longer ones due to a starter in foul trouble.

Freshman Kyle Guy (6-foot-3, 165 pounds), a rare McDonald’s All-American recruit for Bennett that he pried out of Indianapolis, hasn’t started a game yet, but he’s averaging 8.5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 17.2 minutes a game.

Virginia has started the same six players this year with sophomore Jack Salt (6-foot-11, 247 pounds) and junior guard Devon Hall (6-foot-5, 207 pounds) alongside Perrantes, Wilkins and Thompson.

In the three-guard offense, redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite (6-foot-9, 214 pounds) is the first big man off the bench. He’s averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots.

The Packers (5-6) still have five games left to make Virginia proud.

Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055.

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