Michigan State has success against the pick and roll defense of Wisconsin
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.
The defense tried to play Appling tight several times off the ball screen. When Appling saw this, he put his and broke the slower defender down on his way to the rim. While Wisconsin hoped this would prevent him from getting into the paint, the Badger defenders did not have the lateral quickness needed to stay in front of Appling.
When the defenders sagged off Appling and took away his driving lane, Appling pulled up and knocked down the open jump shots. With the threat of Appling driving, this put the defender on his heels and off-balance when they went to contest the shot, allowing Appling the space to elevate over the taller defender. Great decision making by Appling to recognize when to drive and when to pull up.
With Wisconsin switching the pick and roll, this left a small guard against the screener and Michigan State took advantage of this by sending their screener to crash the glass after setting the screen. They tried to hold the screen and let the ball handler a second to create before following in behind him to fight for the rebound. This led to either an offensive rebound and a putback or a foul as the smaller Badger struggled to box out the big man.
Finally, MSU also ran a nice variation of the pick and roll to take advantage of the switching defense. With the defense on the ball screen, the offense used the pick and roll to go right into a dribble handoff. Neither defender in the pick and roll could hedge in time and the variation catches the defender on the player receiving the handoff sleeping.
The defense is expecting the pick and roll to be the main action and is working on defending that set but Michigan State immediately goes into the dribble handoff and uses the ball handler to create a natural screener on the third defender, freeing up open space off the handoff.
With the defense looking for the pick and roll, the Spartans ran this handoff variation several times with success. This caught the defense off guard and there was nobody in position to defend the handoff.
There aren’t many kinks in the armor that is Wisconsin’s defense but they showed that they can struggle against a strong pick and roll team as their big men may be too slow to stop a dynamic guard. Credit has to go to Michigan State for executing the ball screens nicely and showing near flawless decision making on their way to a signature win early in conference play.