Georgia State is one of the early surprises so far this season, as Ron Hunter is leading a team that has reeled off 11 straight wins, including three in the Colonial Athletic Association after dropping the first three games of the season. They are doing it with defense, as they have a 87.1 overall defensive efficiency, 11th in the country, and a 67.6 efficiency in the country, putting them at the top of the conference.
They play mainly zone defense and they show several different looks, including a 1-2-2 zone defense and a 2-3 zone, among other variations. One of the main reasons their defense has been so strong and a key to their current winning streak is their three point defense, as opponents are shooting only 30.9% against them. In their three opening losses, all three teams shot the ball above their current average from beyond the arc. In the 11 games since then, only three teams have shot better than their average from behind the three point line.
While some teams put their guards at the foul line and sit back in their zone defense, Georgia State extends the zone and forces the offense to initiate their sets from several feet beyond the three point line. With the guards pressuring the ball at the top of the key, the rest of the defenders often match up out of the zone and pack the paint.
Look at the guards pressuring the ball out past the three point line. This makes it difficult for the offense to get the ball to the weak spots in the zone, such as the high post or short corner and forces the wing players to move higher up the floor to create passing lanes for the ball handler.
While Michigan State couldn’t join Iowa and become the second team to crack 1 point per possession against Wisconsin, they did manage to escape with a win in Madison in a game that featured an exciting ending, to say the least. Few teams have had prolonged success against the defense of the Badgers this year but Michigan State managed to find some in the pick and roll game.
They did not run ball screens much during the first half but it became a staple of the offense later in the game and it led to several positive possessions for the Spartans. Let’s look at how they exploited the defense of the Badgers.
Wisconsin chose not to hedge at all on these screens and straight switched on many of the pick and rolls. Their goal was to keep Michigan State’s guards, specifically Keith Appling, out of the lane. This didn’t work for several reasons, one being that Appling could blow by the big men of Wisconsin when he wanted to get to the rim and that he was knocking down jump shots when presented with that option.
Appling made great decisions coming off the pick and roll in this game, wisely choosing when he could take it to the rim and when the defense gave him room to pull up. First, let’s look at his ability to take the defense off the dribble. Look at how closely the defense is playing him in the first frame, off the pick and roll switch. There is little more than an arm’s length between Appling and the defender and Appling recognizes he can take him to the rim.
After coaching at Princeton for nearly 20 years in both an assistant and the head coach, Bill Carmody installed a Princeton offense at Northwestern after taking the job in 2000. This shapes up to be his best year yet at the school, as he attempts to lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA appearance. The offense is humming, averaging over 1.1 points per possession, good for 24th in the nation (prior to the Penn State game). The offense is built around a passing big man at the high post, with cuts off the ball and plenty of three point shots. This set encompasses all three of those aspects of the offense for a successful possession.
After resetting the play, Northwestern enters the ball into Luka Mirkovic at the high post as Dave Sobolewski makes the pass. After making the entry pass to the high post, the passer usually cuts through the lane toward the opposite block before clearing out to the weak side corner. Sobolewski feigns this cut, which causes his defender to sag off him to take away a pass from Mirkovic.
However, instead of finishing his cut, Sobolewski suspends his cut and sets a screen for Drew Crawford, who will use this screen to curl to the top of the key.
The Murray State Racers are here to stay and will continue to be in the national spotlight as long as they stay undefeated. While their overall strength of schedule is not very strong, they do have a good win over Memphis to accompany some solid victories over Southern Mississippi and Dayton, proving that they are for real. Their offense is the bread and butter to their success, as they have an adjusted efficiency of 109.8, 39th in the nation. They have had only one game below one point per possession, their win against UAB where they only managed 0.95 PPP.
The offense is dominated by guard penetration, led by Isaiah Canaan, who has an offensive rating of 125.5. Murray State runs few sets but relies on pick and rolls and dribble penetration to open up the floor. They space the floor with shooters who shoot 43.5% from beyond the arc (6th in the country). This allows their guards to find lanes for their dribble drives, which helps them shoot 51% on two point shots.
Here is a shot from a drive by Zay Jackson (the second clip in the video below). You can see one of the defenders scrambling out to Canaan, a dangerous three point shooter. With no help, Jackson is able to slice through the lane to the rim. Murray State also keeps a forward on the block, who opens up to the middle of the floor when his teammate drives to be available for the dump off pass.
BYU got beat down by St. Mary’s in their opening WCC game but it was BYU who threw the first jab by scoring easily on the first possession. St. Mary’s is an undersized team and BYU took advantage of this by isolating Noah Hartsock in the post against Rob Jones. Let’s breakdown how it got to that point.
After controlling the opening tip, Matt Carlino enters the ball to Brandon Davies at the high post. Brock Zylstra then curls from the right wing to receive the handoff from Davies as Carlino clears out to the left wing. Meanwhile, Hartsock begins walking Jones down to the block,where he will seal him after Zylsta receives the handoff.
Vanderbilt relied on a part of their game that has struggled so far in the early part of their season, their defense. They held Marquette to 0.83 points per possession, their second best defensive efficiency of the season (behind December 21st’s 0.82 PPP by Lafayette) and Marquette’s worst offensive output by far. Much of this can be attributed to the presence of Festus Ezeli guarding the rim but the performance against Marquette was a total team effort.
The defense of Vanderbilt was designed to give up three point shots to the Golden Eagles while taking away dribble penetration. They showed some pack line defense principles throughout the game as they sagged off the three point line while closing any lanes to the rim. This caused Marquette to settle for many three point shots, as they were not aggressive in trying to create lanes for penetration.
If you want a more complete look at Doug McDermott’s offensive skills, you can find a breakdown here. McDermott has many strengths but his post game may be his best feature. He is in the top 10% in the country when it comes to efficiency on possessions described as post ups and the following clips will show why. It starts with McDermott gaining great position on the block and ends with his ability to finish in a variety of ways.
McDermott is often able to gain such favorable position on the block that he does not even need to make a move to score, as he already has his defender sealed. McDermott uses his body to put his defender on his back and not allow his defender to get around him and deflect the pass. This creates a passing lane for the post entry pass and opens up a lane to the rim for McDermott to pivot and finish uncontested. That position can be seen in the frame below.