It happened again. 

The University of Virginia Men’s Basketball team made another early exit from the NCAA Tournament by falling to Colorado State 67-42. UVA’s performance was dreadful and left many wondering why they even got in the tournament in the first place. The Cavaliers and their head coach Tony Bennett face some well-deserved criticism for this performance. That 2019 NCAA Championship is a distant memory now. 

However, there is another criticism levied at Bennett: “That ‘system’ won’t work.”

That system, Bennett and UVA’s trademark pack line defense and methodical offense, also gets called into question. It faces scrutiny with every loss. That scrutiny is louder in the tournament, of course.

The system is extreme. The Cavaliers often rank last or near last in tempo in NCAA Division I basketball. It is also highly identifiable with Virginia. When you tune into a UVA game, you know what style of play you are about to see. Even casual basketball fans can sense it. 

Enough about Bennett for now, let’s talk about another coach…

Nate Oats came to the University of Alabama in 2019 and with him came a system based on analytics and maximizing efficiency – “spreadsheet basketball” as some call it. Since his arrival, the Crimson Tide have done quite a lot of winning. They’ve been to two Sweet Sixteens, earned a #1 seed in the tournament and the Tide have won SEC Tournament and regular season titles. 

The analytics-based system employed by Oats and the Tide is trademarked by uptempo offense and high volume of three-point shots. Let’s call it the trickle-down effect from the NBA. Naysayers argue that the NBA is different from college basketball and you won’t win big with that system

Alabama is a program, like Virginia, who is known for a system of play. They have game model and they follow it. Their play, while on the other end of the spectrum as Virginia’s, is just as highly identifiable with their brand. If they lose in the tournament and in that loss they have a cold night from beyond the arc, their system will surely get criticized. 

Bennett and Oats are not the only big time college basketball coaches subjected to critiques from the media, pundits and fanbases. All coaches face criticism. Coaching decisions will be under the microscope over the next few weeks of March Madness. It is part of the madness. 

But Bennett and Oats face a particular criticism that few other coaches face. Their system gets called into question after a negative result. 

Other coaches may get second-guessed for not calling a timeout for the last shot or not fouling up three at the end of the game. Those criticism will be loud. 

Why don’t other coaches get criticized for their system? Well, it is hard to criticize a coach’s system when they don’t have one. 

While radical examples and as different as night and day in the way they see and coach the game, Bennett and Oats have one thing in common. They have a belief about the way the game is played and that belief is carried out by their players. They are both good enough coaches to communicate those beliefs and get buy-in from their players. More importantly, they are both so good at teaching their particular styles of play that it jumps off the screen at you even if you are just a casual fan. And whether you like it or not! 

Can you say this about the team you are a fan of? Coaches, can you say this about the teams you coach and the program you are in charge of? Can you even put down on paper what it is you believe about the game? If so, is it reflected by your teams play? Does your team execute  something… anything… so well that they are “known” for it?

Get your Virginia jokes off. They are an easy punching bag right now. Get your Alabama jokes ready and fire off your takes about chunking up a bunch of threes. These two programs are easy marks for hot takes for reasons discussed in this essay. 

They were also easy to select as subjects for this essay. Why? Because both programs are at least known for something… anything… They stand out from the heaping pile of sameness because they have a system. Do you?