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The Stingy Six: Virginia, five others holding opponents to fewer than 53 points per game

Bobby Knight once said that “good basketball always starts with good defense.”

He was right.  Defense matters.

And it’s no coincidence that the 33 teams allowing fewer than sixty points a game have won a staggering 81 percent of their games a month into the 2019-20 season.  Moreover, eleven of them are currently undefeated while only two of them — North Texas (2-5) and Wyoming (3-5) — have losing records.

Given Tony Bennett’s emphasis on defense, it is also little wonder that the Virginia Cavaliers — playing at their customary methodical pace while usually taking 21.4 seconds per offensive possession — lead the country in both defensive efficiency and scoring defense. 

Through its first seven games, the defending national champions are only allowing a paltry 40.3 points per game. 

In three of those outings, Virginia (7-0) held its opponents to fewer points than that, limiting Syracuse and James Madison to 34 points apiece in the first two games of the season and completely smothering Maine 46-26 in its last contest.  The Black Bears managed only 8-of-43 shots from the floor, or an anemic 18.6 percent, in that lopsided contest.

According to the most recent KenPom ratings — the Holy Grail for college basketball junkies — Virginia has an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 78.9 — nearly five points lower than Ohio State’s second-best 84.8.

Virginia, moreover, has limited its opponents to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor — the best in the country — and has defended the three-point line as well as anybody, limiting opponents to a relatively dismal 24.7 percent accuracy from beyond the arc, ranking ninth in the nation in that category. 

Overall, opponents have made only 101 of 351 field-goal attempts, or 28.8 percent, against the defensive-minded Cavaliers.

Needless to say, cheap buckets are hard to come by when you’re playing one of the three-time National Coach of the Year’s teams. 

That’s pretty impressive, but it’s worth noting that there are five other Div. I teams at this early juncture of the 2019-20 season that are also stressing defensive efficiency while holding their opponents below 53 points per game — and all of them have impressive winning records, prevailing in a combined 33 of 36 games through Dec. 1.

Undefeated Liberty (9-0), which hosts tiny Trinity Baptist College of Jacksonville later tonight, ranks second in scoring defense.  The Flames are allowing a meager 50.8 points per game and should be able to improve on that this evening against the winless Eagles, a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).

Arkansas (7-0) is third nationally in scoring defense, yielding a paltry 51.4 points per game.  The Razorbacks, who force more than twenty turnovers per game and are ranked nineteenth in total steals with 77, held their first three opponents — Rice, North Texas and Montana — to 46 points or less to open the season.  Guard Mason Jones, a 6-5 junior, is averaging 2.67 steals per game for the hardwood Hogs.

Sacramento State (4-1), which has been holding opponents to 51.6 points, is ranked fourth.  Sacramento State’s Joshua Patton, a 6-8, 260-pound senior from Manteca, California, is averaging 2.4 blocks per game, ranking 31st in the country in that category.  

UC Riverside (6-2), giving up just 52.5 points per contest while aiming for its first winning record in the Big West since joining the conference in 2001-02, is ranked fifth in scoring defense.  The Highlanders are also averaging more than thirty defensive rebounds per game — seventeenth best in the country.

Sixth-ranked Ohio State (7-0) rounds out the Stingy Six.  The Buckeyes, who lead the country with a 25.6 scoring margin, have been limiting opponents to 52.7 points per outing.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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