The Mikan Drill

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How UConn should play against a zone defense

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After seeing the interior duo of Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu struggle against the zone of Syracuse in a UConn loss, Seton Hall utilized a 2-3 zone defense to open up a double digit lead. They went back to man to man down the stretch and UConn was able to come back for a win. I commented how I thought we would see many teams start to zone UConn, as they struggled on offense with it over the past two games. Read on for their deficiencies but also some positives they showed and how they can get teams out of a zone.

Interior struggles

Okwandu is a liability on offense against any type of defense but especially a zone where UConn needs him to be a threat at the high post. In this clip against Syracuse, watch as the defense shows him no respect when he catches the ball at the foul line. Okwandu is trying to make the defense respect him but his jump shot has little chance of going in.

UConn is a top ten offensive rebounding team in the country as of Friday. In their last two games of 21.1%, respectively, well below their average of 39.8%. Teams are able to pack the lane on the defensive end and secure the defensive rebound instead of guarding the mid range jump shot. This takes away a big part of the UConn offense, as they get fewer shots at the basket.

Once UConn does get the ball to the big man in a favorable position to score, they don’t really possess the finishing skills necessary for play in the Big East. In the following play, Okwandu gets the ball in a spot that should allow him to get an easy two points.

However, he shows off some finishing skills that make Chas McFarland look like Blake Griffin and UConn comes away empty. Getting the ball to the dead spot (or short corner), drawing the middle defender and dumping the ball into the paint is probably the best way to beat a zone. Since Okwandu has trouble finishing from short range as we saw, UConn will have trouble beating the zone.

Way for UConn to beat zone

I really think UConn needs to beat the zone by playing small. Have Oriakhi running the baseline, with Walker, Lamb, Napier on the wings. That leaves Roscoe Smith, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel or Niels Giffey to fill out the roster. Obviously this leaves them undersized on the defensive side of the ball but I think the increase in effectiveness on offense will mitigate any weaknesses on defense.

In this play, we see that Coombs-McDaniel is filling the high post. Contrasting this play with the first play of the post, we see how much more effective Coombs-McDaniel is in this position. He catches, faces the basket and takes one dribble to get to the basket and score.

That is a move I know Okwandu could not have pulled off and with Coombs-McDaniel in this position, it gives UConn a more dynamic offense. It makes the  defense step up and respect the high post and puts a player there who can make things happen from a prime position on the floor.

Another advantage to going small is that it can open up the lane for Walker and others to penetrate and create. In the following clip, you see the lane empty and Walker takes advantage to drive, draw the defense and dump it to Smith for the slam.

Now although Smith and Oriakhi were playing on opposite blocks, Smith could also space the floor by playing beyond the three point line. He is not a proficient three point shooter but he has made 14-44 this season and would draw attention from the defense. This would open the paint even more that would allow penetration.

I think this would play to the strengths of UConn by allowing the guards to take over rather than trying to force the ball through weaker offensive players. Okwandu is not strong enough of an offensive player to create out of the high post, limiting what UConn can do against the zone.

The Mikan Drill can be found on Twitter @TheMikanDrill

Written by Joshua Riddell

February 6, 2011 at 5:09 am

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