VCU’s ball screens to get Jamie Skeen open 3’s
With VCU shocking almost all of us to go from the First Four to the Final Four, I wanted to highlight how they utilize ball screens to get Jamie Skeen open for three point shots. Let’s look at two different sets, one with Skeen not setting the ball screen and one with him as the screener.
Off the ball
I actually highlighted this type of set in VCU’s opening round win against USC (read here), so I won’t spend too much time on it again. This play is going to work if teams hedge on ball screens, with the help defender rotating over to take away the roll man. We saw Pitt use this type of defense in a Big East game earlier in the season (read here).
A quick note on why this play works, as you can read in more detail in the linked post above. VCU’s ball handler on ball screens does not usually look to get to the basket. He is looking for the roll man or Skeen flashing from the block, depending on how the defense chooses to defend the screen.
In these two plays, the defense hedges on the ball screen and rotates Skeen’s defender over to take away the roll. This allows Skeen to flash to the top of the key and get the reversal from Rodriguez to knock down the three before the defense can recover.
Rodriguez sets this play up by not turning the corner off the screen but dribbling to the wing to extend the defense. By doing this and making the long pass to Skeen, the defense does not have enough time to rotate over. Okaro White hedges on the ball screen while Bernard James rotates to Skeen after taking away the roll action. White recovers back to DJ Haley, who set the screen, but it is too late and it is too far to rotate for James to close out on Skeen before he can shoot.
Pick and pop
VCU also likes to have Skeen set the ball screen and then pop out to the three point line. We see an example of this from the Kansas game, where Kansas also decided to hedge hard on the screen. You can see below the hedge from Marcus Morris on Darius Theus. Again, it does not look like Theus is trying to turn the corner and get to the rim but the point of the ball screen looks to be to set up the outside shot.
Since Skeen rolls to the three point line instead of the rim, the help man, Thomas Robinson sticks with his man which means Morris has to sprint to close out on Skeen. You can see again how the ball handler stretches the play out, forcing the hedging player to step out away from where the screen was set, giving them a larger area of the court to cover. This gives Skeen plenty of time to catch and shoot before Morris can recover.
The main key to both plays are similar which is that the ball handler draws the hedger away from the screen instead of attacking the basket. This gives the defender too large of an area to cover while recovering, giving Skeen time to get his shot. The only wrinkle is where Skeen comes from, which depends on whether he sets the screen or not.
How to defend
The ball handler on ball screens for VCU only averages about .72 points per possession, which is in the 42nd percentile of Division one. I think this helps show that the ball handler is not looking to score but is rather trying to create opportunities for his teammates. If I was designing a game plan to stop the ball screens on VCU, I think it would center around the fact that you have to force the ball handler to look to score, while taking away the shooters.
My game plan would be to let the defender on the ball handler under the ball screen by having the defender of the screener take a few steps away from the screening action. The primary defender has to do all he can to not get screened and not make the second defender hedge on the screen.
I would not hedge since they do such a good job of drawing the hedge man away from the action. If Skeen is setting the screen, you have to be aware that he is going to pick and pop. If he is not, the screener’s defender has to stay at home to defend the roll and let Skeen’s defender stick with him on the flash to the top of the key.
I would do all I could to force the ball handler to make a play himself. I would let them shoot over the screen, until they prove they can make it consistently and I would trust my defense to rotate to take away any dribble penetration they might get. These ball screens are designed not for the ball handler but for the shooters, so you have to force the ball handlers to create for themselves.
My only concern is if Burgess is handling the ball as we saw in the USC game. If I were the coach, I would have this in the back of my mind but in order to not make things too complicated from the start, I would stick with the original game plan. If Burgess buries a jump shot (42%) or gets to the rim, an adjustment would have to be made. Burgess looks to get most of his three point opportunities from spotting up, so I would take my chances and make him prove he can do one of those things first before I change the game plan.
So that is how I would game plan to defend the ball screens of VCU. Let the primary defender under the screen and force him to make a play himself while taking away the three point shooters.