The Virginia Basketball Program: The Blocker-Mover Offense Overview

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and that you had the opportunity to spend some quality time with your family. Coaching is such a huge time and energy commitment, so these opportunities are precious. I have two boys (3 ½ and 1 ½) and Christmas with them was really special for me.

In the past I wrote a series of articles on the University of Maryland basketball program. I had some great response from this series and I thought I would write about another program, the University of Virginia. The Virginia Wahoo’s program is led by Tony Bennett. Tony played and coached with his father, Dick Bennett, who has been one of the most influential coaches in America, particularly in the Midwest where his Wisconsin teams (as well as Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-Green Bay) where some of the premier defensive teams in the country.

Only entering his second year at UVA, Coach Tony Bennett is just starting to get his type of player into his program. He has a very particular offensive and defensive philosophy and that requires a specific skill set. Coach Bennett’s program will recruit a much larger geographic pool looking for that special player. The current freshman class has players from Maine, Alabama, Washington, California, New York, and North Carolina and not a single player from the state of Virginia. Stretching UVA’s recruiting resources geographically might be a strain but the players he does secure are not the blue chipper’s that all programs are chasing, rather these are players are often undervalued nationally who can flourish at UVA. Four of the current members of this recruiting class play a significant role in this rebuilding program.

The offensive-system they use was based off of Dick Bennett’s Blocker-Move Offense. I have seen a video on this offense, The Blocker/Mover Offensive System, so I do have some background on the offense. The Blocker-Mover Offense is a motion offense that is based on role definition. For this offense we designate screeners(blockers) and cutters (movers).

Let’s start with examining the role of the mover, this player has to be able to make all 4 cuts (back,curl, tight curl, and flare), score off of these cuts, make great reads and decisions coming off of screens. As you might imagine this is a skilled type player and one that which is not nearly as common in today’s US basketball. American players are much more skilled in individual moves but not nearly as skilled in off the ball movement. Depending on the set, 2 to 3 players will be designated as movers.

The blockers obviously are screeners. Their job is to screen and rescreen the movers looking to get them open. You will see one blocker and one mover working together constantly, almost working a 2 man game off the basketball. The screener has to be able to not only execute a back screen, down screen, flare screen, and ball screen but also must be able to find a space to score once they have screened. I am a big believer that “the screener is often the player most likely to be open for a shot”. Here is a classic example of that, this is the Celtics winning game 4 versus the Magic. Glenn Davis sets a ball screen, his defender has to help on the ball screen and he slips to the wing for a open jump shot.

Certainly the coach has to do a sales job to convince some of his players to function soley as screeners but this might not be as hard as you think. First, I think there are a number of players that do not have a ton of skill but still can contribute that will willingly and expertly accept the role of being a screener. Secondly, great screeners are able to get the ball in key scoring position. The current leading scorer (at 15.9 points versus 11.3 for the second leading scorer) is Mike Scott, who is the primary blocker for this team. He shots a rebust 48.2 percent from the floor and is averaging a gaudy 3.8 offensive rebounds per game and shoot close to 6 free throws a game. By all the attention the “movers” get, Scott is able to get great rebounding position because when he screens his defender is helping on the screen and can not get into position to box out. Mike Scott’s iniside/outside skills allow him to make great reads off of the cuts of the mover. Finally, do not underestimate the power of being a ball screener, kids naturally love to play screen and roll basketball and the ball screen is very effective in this offense.

This is just an initial look at the philosophy of Tony Bennet’s version of the Blocker-Mover offense, I will be going in greater depth in future posts.
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One Comment

  1. Very nice overview here.

    Might want to mention that the blocker-mover is a (very specific) variation of the motion offense more familiar to most readers, it’s just one with specific roles.

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