The March To March: UVA all the way?

Philadelphia, PA ( - No McDonald's All-Americans.

No top-50 recruits.

And no projected future first-round NBA draft picks.

Virginia does have a successful system, however. It's one that isn't going to win any beauty pageants, but it may be good enough to cut down the nets in Indianapolis come April.

Welcome to Tony Bennett's world.

The Cavaliers (19-0) and their vaunted Pack-Line defense are just four wins away from matching the 1980-81 team for the best start in school history. Virginia, which has kept 44 straight ACC opponents under 50 percent shooting, is holding its adversaries to just 34.1 percent from the floor on the season.

And this has come a year following the departures of Joe Harris -- Virginia's No. 11 all-time leading scorer -- and Akil Mitchell -- the school's No. 7 rebounder. The improvements of Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill have picked up their slack.

But it's the system that's most responsible for the Wahoos' prosperity.

The main tenet of the Pack-Line is the defensive shape, with four defenders forming an imaginary arch several feet inside of the 3-point line. Then there's an on-the-ball defender who pressures the ball handler.

Basically, the defense is designed to force difficult, contested jumpers. And with four defenders sagging inside the Pack-Line, it eliminates dribble penetration. Due to the wall of defenders, the gaps for an offensive player to navigate through are minimal. The strategy also prevents backdoor cuts and players are always in position to clear the defensive glass. Bennett also wants all five of his players on the court to sprint back following an offensive possession to prevent the fastbreak.

As good as the Cavaliers' defensive statistics look, there are some disadvantages. The 3-point shot is an equalizer, although Virginia's foes are shooting just 29.9 percent from long distance. Defenders are always playing off their man and in a help position so if they don't anticipate quick enough and close out on a shot, a team can get hot from beyond the arc.

This was seen in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season when 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina led by as many as 10 in the opening half and was up five going into the break. The Chanticleers made 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes and finished 9-of-19 for the game.

Looking back, some of the fans in Charlottesville weren't enthused when Bennett was hired in 2009. Tubby Smith was the shiny glittering name that had won a national championship at Kentucky with ties to the Commonwealth. He was an assistant coach for VCU from 1979-86 when it won a trio of Sun Belt conference titles. Smith, though, decided to stay at Minnesota and Bennett's Pack-Line defense was brought in instead.

There's no second guessing the hiring of Bennett now.

The 'Hoos had made just two NCAA Tournament appearances in the 12 years prior to Bennett's arrival -- in 2001 under Pete Gillen and 2007 with Dave Leitao. Only the 2007 team won a tournament game.

But Bennett was used to turning programs around.

Washington State hadn't been in the Big Dance since 1994 until Bennett led it there in his first season at Pullman. The Cougars went 26-8 in 2006-07, tying the school record for wins, and earned a No. 3 seed in the tourney. They won their first round game but lost to Vanderbilt in the second. But the team the following season reached the Sweet 16 before falling to North Carolina.

The script has repeated itself in Charlottesville.

Bennett guided the Cavaliers to a 22-10 mark in 2011-12. They reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons, but lost to Florida in the Round of 64.

Last season, Virginia set a school record for victories, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history.

And this year the Cavaliers are attempting to race off to their best start ever. They'll have to get past highly-touted Duke to get there and a win over the Blue Devils should silence some doubters.

As great as Bennett's current run at Virginia has been, it still doesn't match the Ralph Sampson era, at least not yet. The Cavaliers earned three straight No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament from 1981-83, Sampson's last seasons with the program.

The 1980-81 squad was the best of the bunch, not only sporting Sampson but also Jeff Lamp, who was the 15th pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. They began 23-0 and reached the Final Four in Philadelphia before falling to North Carolina.

Sampson never got back to the national semifinals. Virginia lost to fourth- seeded UAB on its home floor in Birmingham during the Sweet 16 of the 1982 NCAA Tournament and was upset by eventual national champion and No. 6 seed NC State in the Elite Eight of the 1983 tourney.

Ironically, the Cavaliers reached the Final Four as a seventh seed the year after Sampson graduated in 1984.

Kentucky, of course, is also unbeaten, but it's gaining most of the national attention with its nine former McDonald's All-Americans.

If there is a team that can clip the 'Cats, though, it's Virginia.

It's no secret that the Wildcats' weakness is their outside shooting. Well, that plays right into Virginia's advantage. Due to its length, UK snatches about 45 percent of offensive rebounds, which leads the country. The Cavs, however, grab 78.8 percent of defensive boards, which is third in the nation.

It's a fascinating matchup that would savor the appetite of basketball junkies everywhere.

We just might see it on April 6.


MIDWEST (Cleveland)

1. Kentucky* vs. 16. New Mexico State*/Alabama State* winner

8. Stanford vs. 9. Oklahoma State

4. Louisville vs. 13. Murray State*

5. Butler vs. 12. Stephen F. Austin*

6. Indiana vs. 11. Xavier

3. Notre Dame vs. 14. Kent State*

7. Northern Iowa vs. 10. Dayton

2. Kansas* vs. 15. Georgia Southern*

SOUTH (Houston)

1. Duke vs. 16. Sacramento State*

8. Colorado State vs. 9. Ohio State

4. Wichita State* vs. 13. Western Kentucky*

5. VCU* vs. 12. Wofford*

6. Providence vs. 11. NC State/Tennessee winner

3. Iowa State vs. 14. Long Beach State*

7. SMU vs. 10. Iowa

2. Arizona* vs. 15. Albany*

EAST (Syracuse)

1. Virginia* vs. 16. Bucknell*/Robert Morris* winner

8. Cincinnati vs. 9. LSU

4. Georgetown* vs. 13. Iona*

5. West Virginia vs. 12. Wyoming*

6. Oklahoma vs. 11. Georgia/Old Dominion winner

3. Utah vs. 14. Northeastern*

7. Miami-Florida vs. 10. St. John's

2. Wisconsin* vs. 15. High Point*

WEST (Los Angeles)

1. Gonzaga* vs. 16. North Florida*

8. Seton Hall vs. 9. San Diego State

4. North Carolina vs. 13. Yale*

5. Baylor vs. 12. Green Bay*

6. Arkansas vs. 11. Tulsa*

3. Maryland vs. 14. NC Central*

7. Texas vs. 10. Washington

2. Villanova vs. 15. South Dakota State*


Michigan State


George Washington

Oregon State






* - denotes conference leader. In a result of a tie atop the standings, the team with the higher RPI was chosen.