Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 1st, 2016

Jay Wright’s teams have long employed a 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press as a variant to its standard halfcourt man-to-man defense. This has been partly used as a way to force turnovers, but it also helps the Villanova defense by burning valuable time off the shot clock. Its efficacy largely hinges on its personnel. Villanova has always had talented backcourts with proven abilities to score, but the necessary buy-in on the defensive end has only occurred in recent years. As a result, the zone press has experienced a significant uptick in usage — a testament to both Jay Wright‘s acknowledgement of its success and increased practice time in mastering its implementation. But the biggest development in this defensive scheme hasn’t been just added practice time — rather, the arrival of freshman Mikal Bridges has drastically improved the defensive scheme. Bridges gives Villanova a deceptively long, athletic wing with above-average foot speed who can wreak havoc within this extended defense.

The set-up of the 1-2-2 is as follows. The most important position is the player circled in red at the top, whose job it is to force the opposing ball-handler to one side of the floor.

Some of the more aggressive variations of the 1-2-2 press will attempt to trap the ball-handler in his own backcourt. While that strategy may force more turnovers, the downside is that it leaves the press exposed on the other end of the floor — especially true if the opponent has multiple ball-handlers. Wright’s adjustment is that Villanova presses in a more passive manner. The first objective is to bait the dribbler into throwing a pass, whereby players 1 -3 will aggressively pursue anything thrown over the top.

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Early Draft Declarations Create Uncertainty at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2016

Although Kansas fell short of expectations in failing to reach this weekend’s Final Four, the Jayhawks enjoyed another hugely successful season. They won the Maui Invitational, took home their 12th straight Big 12 title, broke a three-year Big 12 Tournament championship drought and earned the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When a team typically has that kind of year, it has at least a couple players talented enough to enter the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene have their warts as prospects, but they remain skilled players in the eyes of talent evaluators, and for that reason (among others, in Greene’s case), neither will be returning to Kansas next season. Their decisions could mean that Bill Self‘s method of addressing the openings created by his two departing wings could come to define his team’s offseason.

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

The Jayhawks’ tremendous depth this season means the team may be able to shoulder the losses of Selden and Greene with an in-house solution. Svi Mykhailiuk is a dynamic rising junior who can blow games open with his shooting — in a similar fashion to Greene — while possessing the ball-handling skills and court vision Greene lacked and Selden didn’t need. Of course, those attributes, in addition to Mykhailiuk’s young age (he doesn’t turn 19 until this June), make him a candidate for early entry as well. However, with Selden and Greene already officially gone from Kansas’ roster, the sophomore might see the situation as an opportunity to hone his skills for 20-plus minutes a night next season.

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ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

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Three Statistics That Favor Wisconsin Over Notre Dame

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

January 12, 2016, was a low point for Wisconsin basketball. Not only did the Badgers lose to a sub-par Northwestern squad on the road, but they also appeared to have dug themselves into a dangerous and perhaps irrevocable hole with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten. Nobody then would have expected that team to have a legitimate chance of making the Elite Eight two months later. Ken Pomeroy’s model predicts a one-point win for the #7 seed in its regional semifinal versus #6 Notre Dame tonight. The oddsmakers in Vegas, however, originally pegged Notre Dame as a one-point favorite, although that appears to have moved toward Wisconsin as well since then. Here are three statistics that indicate that KenPom is accurate in considering Wisconsin tonight’s favorite.

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

Bronson Koenig should have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc against a porous Irish defense. (AP)

  • Opponents shot 38.7 percent from three against the Irish during ACC conference play. Notre Dame ranked 12th of 15 ACC teams in this defensive category this season, so poor perimeter defense will be an issue against a hot Bronson Koenig, who went 6-of-12 from behind the arc against Xavier last weekend. As a team, the Badgers shot 38 percent from three-point range during conference play, and Koenig’s long-range efforts have been complemented effectively by Vitto Brown‘s 40 percent shooting. Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia will have their hands full in keeping up with Wisconsin’s hot-shooting backcourt.

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Key Matchups Loom Large in UNC-Indiana Battle

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

During a postgame interview after Indiana’s tough win over Kentucky, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said that he “didn’t want to stop coaching this team.” His sentiment makes sense. Crean has a fun and talented team, led by one of the best players in Hoosiers history. But while Yogi Ferrell played his heart out (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) against Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats, he can’t do it by himself against North Carolina. The Hoosiers should be in good shape on the offensive end, especially if freshman Thomas Bryant continues to stay out of foul trouble; however, expect Indiana to be challenged in different ways by the Tar Heels. For Crean to get his wish and continue coaching this team, the Hoosiers will have figure out the answers to tonight’s following matchups.

Tom Crean's defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet 16 round. (Getty)

Tom Crean’s defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Getty)

  • Brice Johnson vs. Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Johnson has been arguably the best forward in the country over the course of a season in which he averaged 16.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His athleticism around the rim will definitely demand double-teams from the Hoosiers’ defense. Indiana’s help defense against Kentucky’s big men was successful because neither Alex Poythress nor Marcus Lee are comfortable with their backs to the basket; Johnson, however, has the exact opposite skill set. Bryant has the weight to push Johnson away from the paint but the Tar Heels big man could run circles around him if he chooses to face the basket. Williams, on the other hand, has the wingspan to defend Johnson but will be susceptible to picking up easy fouls against him. Those would hurt the Hoosiers considerably on the other end of the floor. Even if they end up letting Johnson get his 20 points in the paint, protecting the defensive glass is paramount. It will not be a close contest if Johnson ends up with multiple second chances on the offensive end.

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The Big 12’s Road to the Final Four

Posted by Chris Stone on March 24th, 2016

The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a mixed bag for college basketball’s toughest conference. Although three Big 12 teams — Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma — advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, the other four invitees headed home after the first weekend. Baylor, Texas and West Virginia were all upset by double-digit seeds, while Texas Tech was knocked off by higher-seeded (but favored) Butler. Still, this is the first time since 2009 that the Big 12 has produced as many as three Sweet Sixteen teams and each has a legitimate chance to make the Final Four in Houston. Let’s take a look at how they can get there.

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma's Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma’s Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa State – The Cyclones have the most difficult task ahead. Virginia is currently the top-ranked team in the KenPom ratings and represent a stylistic nightmare for an Iowa State team that prefers to get up and down the floor. Virginia has not played a single game with more than 70 possessions this season, while only about a third of the Cyclones’ contests have fallen below that mark. Iowa State will have to rely on its highly efficient offense — especially senior All-American Georges Niang  to produce enough points to get past the Cavaliers. If Steve Prohm’s team can make it to the Elite Eight, they’ll face one of two teams in Gonzaga or Syracuse with good but not great defenses. In either matchup, Iowa State would likely be favored to advance to Houston. The key game for the Cyclones comes Friday night.

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ACC Crashes the Sweet Sixteen Party in Unprecedented Way

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 23rd, 2016

The ACC has advanced a record six teams into the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament, giving the league an impressive total of 11 appearances in the second weekend over the last two years. Last year’s placement of five ACC teams in the regional semifinals was only the second time a conference had put that many teams there (Big East — 2009), but this year’s sextet marked a new record for postseason conference superiority. There has since understandably been much discussion on how to contextualize this year’s performance, and we’ll weigh in on that question while examining its meaningfulness for the conference as a whole.

The Biggest ACC Surprise is One of the Most Recognizable Names (USA Today Images)

The Biggest ACC Surprise is One of the Most Recognizable Names (USA Today Images)

The ACC has gone through two major expansions in the last dozen years, poaching schools from the Big East in each case. At least dating back to the early 1980s, those two leagues (often along with the Big Ten) have waged battle for the prestigious title of best conference in college basketball. The league’s first round of additions (Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College) in the mid-2000s were added for their prestigious football programs and lucrative television markets — the result was that the league’s status as first among basketball powers slumped. But the most recent ACC expansion north resulted in the acquisition of four good-to-great basketball programs. The arrivals of Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh sparked notions that the ACC could become the best basketball conference ever assembled. And so far, so good. After a shaky first year as a bulky 15-team league, the ACC has now logged two consecutive seasons of impressive postseason success. Two of the ACC’s six Sweet Sixteen participants this year are recent additions (Syracuse and Notre Dame), and a third newcomer, Louisville, would have certainly been a high seed had the Cardinals been eligible this year.

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Despite Disappointment, South Carolina’s Arrow Still Pointing Up

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 23rd, 2016

South Carolina‘s season came to an end on Monday night with a loss in the NIT. For a program that has been to a national postseason tournament only 18 other times, playing in a March event of any kind is a success on its own. Last week Frank Martin called missing out on the NCAA Tournament a “tough pill to swallow” for a team that put together an undefeated non-conference season, won a school record 24 regular season games, and went 11-7 in the SEC. That disappointment may have carried over into the NIT, as the Gamecocks beat overmatched High Point last week before sleepwalking through a 17-point second round home loss to Georgia Tech.

Sindarius Thornwell will continue to be a key piece for Frank Martin in 2016-17 (heraldonline.com).

Sindarius Thornwell will continue to be a key piece for Frank Martin in 2016-17 (heraldonline.com).

The Selection Committee’s snub wasn’t a happy day for South Carolina basketball. “It was hurtful; it was disappointing,” senior Laimonas Chatkevicius said at the time. The governing body’s decision represented the first time that a power conference team had been left out of the Dance after winning at least 24 games, but the sting of that disappointment shouldn’t mitigate the positive momentum the Gamecocks built this season. Martin’s team nearly doubled its conference win total from six to 11 and has posted top-40 KenPom defenses in each of the last two years. Being a regularly competitive SEC team (including a win over co-champion Texas A&M) is just not something this program typically does.

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From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.

USC.

Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Oklahoma State Tabs Brad Underwood To Reinvigorate Program

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2016

One of the most attractive jobs in the conference opened up on Friday when Oklahoma State parted ways with Travis Ford. While five bottom-half finishes in six seasons may not suggest much allure to the gig, strong facilities, access to the lush recruiting hotbed of Texas, a winning tradition and avid fan and donor support (when the team performs) were enough to sway former Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood to come aboard just one day after his Lumberjacks exited the NCAA Tournament.

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

Much like a baseball prospect who’s mashed his way through the minor leagues, there was simply nothing left for Underwood to prove at the mid-major level. His Stephen F. Austin teams went 59-1 in conference play over three seasons, winning the Southland Conference tournament each year he was there and bringing that same fire to the NCAA Tournament, winning two games as a double-digit seed and pushing a good Notre Dame team to the final second over the weekend. Underwood’s resume was overwhelming even before this season’s Second Round run, but the postseason certainly elevated the demand for his services, making it clear that the time had come for him to find a bigger challenge.

Underwood will find just that in the Big 12, whose coaches have a combined 43 Sweet Sixteen trips and eight Final Fours to their names. The biggest hurdle he’ll have to clear will be the demanding task of recruiting in Stillwater’s backyard, but his ties to the area as a McPherson (Kan.) native and as a two-year player at Kansas State and assistant under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin suggest he’s more than capable of doing the job.

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Why Villanova’s Offense Is So Lethal

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2016

Let’s clear the air about something: Villanova is not a three-point reliant team in the traditional sense. A few rare instances aside, this is not a unit that will simply fire shots from the perimeter because three points is worth more than two. There is a logic behind its strategy, one that insists that Jay Wright‘s group is much more balanced than people think. The threes taken are seldom contested, a product of Villanova’s mechanical drive-and-dish offense that forces opponents to make a decision between preventing a layup or a three. And his personnel fits the system perfectly: Josh Hart is an incredibly effective finisher off the dribble; Daniel Ochefu is a deceivingly smart passer out of the low post; and Kris JenkinsRyan Arcidiacono and others are all strong shooters who force defenders to stay honest. There’s a reason Villanova is one of the most effective teams in the country at the rim (68.7%; 12th nationally) despite having only one player standing 6’8″ or taller. The four-out, one-in offense perfected by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors has allowed Villanova to become a lethal offensive group. Let’s take a look at how they run it.

First and foremost are a series of high-screens that puts pressure on opposing big men. Playing off the ball to defend the screener leaves the ball-handler with an open look, certain to be the wrong decision when defending a team full of shooters.

 

Hedging hard, however, forces a third defender to pick up the screener and leaves a different player open. Given how well Villanova spreads the floor, the decision by a defense to hedge is a gamble that the tertiary defender will be quick enough to recover to the perimeter.

 

Post play is also an important part of Villanova’s offense. For all of the talk about the guards, Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds convert field goals at rates in the 60 percent range, and both use a variety of post moves to score. This low-post effectiveness calls for another forced defensive decision: double-down on the post or sacrifice a high percentage shot.

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Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
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