Three point defense the key to Georgia State’s success
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.
By pushing the ball handler toward the half court line, this forces the wing players to take several steps away from the three point line to get into the passing lanes to create ball movement. If a wing player wants to catch and shoot, they will be several steps behind the three point line when they attempt the shot. While they are still close enough to potentially make the shot, this slight change throws some shooters off and causes their shot to come up short.
With the ball handler halfway between the three point line and half court due to the extended zone, you can see how the wing player, Bradford Burgess in this case, has to extend out to give the passer a lane to get him the ball. Burgess loves to catch and shoot and when he does off this pass, he is a couple steps behind where he would normally shoot. Again, this isn’t a major hindrance but this slight change can throw the shooter off, forcing him to miss his shot.
By extending the zone, Georgia State can make it difficult for the offense to initiate their offense as they make the first pass designed to penetrate the zone difficult. This causes the offense to settle for long jump shots, many of which are beyond their normal range. This is one of the main factors that the three point defense of Georgia State is so strong.
While part of the credit can be given to the defense for forcing tough three point shots, they don’t deserve all the accolades. The way their zones are designed leaves open spots on the floor and by extending the zone, it can be difficult to close out on shooters, especially on the wing or in the corner. Georgia State hopes to push the shooters back a few feet but when they don’t, the offense has a great look at the rim.
The Panthers often have only two players on the bottom of the zone making it the guards responsibilty to close out on shooters. This can be difficult when they extend the zone, as it too much of a distance for them to cover before the shooter can release his shot. What this leads to are open, makeable three point shots for the offense, but many of them have been missed so far this year. Georgia State has gotten somewhat lucky in this regard, as teams are missing very makeable shots against them during their winning streak.
By extending their guards at the top of the zone beyond the three point line, Georgia State makes it difficult for the offense to penetrate the zone with a pass to the high post which forces them to settle for long jump shots. While the defense forces some of these to be longer than normal, many of them are wide open as the guards cannot close out in time.
With teams shooting so many three pointers against them (37.9% of total field goals), the three point defense will be their key to success the rest of the season. So far, it has been good to them as they are riding an 11 game winning streak. If teams start to make their open shots, they could find themselves in trouble.