Breaking Down Texas A&M’s Elite Rim Defense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 22nd, 2017

Texas A&M was maddeningly frustrating last season. A long, athletic team fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance and returning a likely lottery pick proceeded to suffer a painstaking nine single-digit losses to NCAA Tournament teams. High hopes followed that group into this season, as star big man Robert Williams elected to return to school and again set the bar high for the Aggies. So far — at 4-0 with a thumping over then-#11 West Virginia and this week’s Legends Classic championship — Texas A&M is most definitely living up to the hype.

While its offense continues to develop given new backcourt additions along with improved ball-handling and perimeter shooting, the team’s secret ingredient lies in its post defense. With a hulking front line featuring the sophomore Williams (6’9″, 240 pounds), Tyler Davis (6’10”, 265 pounds) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6’10”, 220 pounds), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that opposing teams struggle to score inside. But in the wake of today’s pace-and-space era of basketball, many teams also struggle to effectively play multiple bigs on the floor at the same time. Not so for Texas A&M. Lineups including two of the three big men have posted improved defensive numbers, as the below tables show.

So let’s examine both how and why the Aggies’ defense has been such a headache for their opponents. For one reason, Billy Kennedy‘s defense thrives on enlisting post players that possess both size and mobility to quickly slide into help position, preventing opponents from simply dragging the bigs out to the perimeter. In the clip below, watch how much ground Trocha-Morelos (#10) covers as he shifts between playing disruptive help defense on multiple occasions to defending his man on the perimeter.

Additionally, the Aggies’ post players have demonstrated an uncanny ability to both protect the rim and do so without fouling. Texas A&M finished last season fifth nationally in block percentage while committing fouls on just 28.1 percent of their opponents’ field goal attempts. By way of comparison, the average foul rate for the top 30 teams in block percentage last season was 33.6 percent. Conventional wisdom holds that the highest percentage shots in basketball are the ones closest to the rim, so it follows that this area of the floor receives the most defensive attention. Perhaps even more impressive than A&M’s ability to alter or block those attempts is its ability to deter them altogether — just 27.9 percent of opposing teams’ shots last season were taken at the rim (26th nationally).

The above chart plots the top 40 teams in shots allowed at the rim last season. Of those teams, only two allowed lower field goal percentages. The two clips below illustrate a pair of examples of this kind of shot prevention. Whether it stems from poor post positioning or an inability to penetrate the defense, the fact remains that many opposing teams simply struggle to generate many chances around the rim.

There’s no denying the athletic talent that Texas A&M possesses in the post. And not only do their opponents know it but it seems like they can sense it as well. With Williams returning to the lineup on Monday night, they held Oklahoma State to sub-40 percent shooting inside the arc. Williams acknowledged just that, stating, “I feel like I play [with] a big presence. I do my best, not even to block, but to just contest and let you know — feel my presence and let them know that I’m here.” Unlike most elite defenses, the Aggies don’t force a lot of turnovers or lull teams into chewing up the clock; rather, the frontcourt ensures their proximity is felt with every shot attempt.

Justin Kundrat (122 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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