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Defensive Strategies: Russ Smith, Louisville

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This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how collegiate defenses can slow down the offense of Russ Smith of Louisville.

Russ Smith took a major leap forward on the offensive end in his junior season, increasing his points per game from 11.5 to 18.7, while increasing his two point field goal percentage from 38% to 45.8% and his three point field goal percentage slightly from 30% to 32.8%. He was a key member of the Louisville national champion team and will be one of the leaders as they try to defend the title. With the departure of backcourt mate Peyton Siva, it will be interesting to see how Smith’s role changes but the one thing that is certain is that teams are going to struggle to defend him.

These strategies won’t turn Smith into a poor offensive player or stop him from having any effect on the game, however, they can provide a starting point for what defenses should focus on to slow Smith down. This isn’t an exhaustive list for defenses but hopefully it will show some building blocks for how they can make life difficult on the offensive end for Smith.

Run players at him in transition

Smith is one of the quickest players in the country with the ball, which makes him deadly in transition. Transition opportunities were where he derived most of his offense last season as Louisville ranked as the 5th fastest team on offense, according to When Smith gets the ball in the open court, he is nearly impossible to keep up with and he is able to blow past defenders on the way to the rim.

To slow down Smith, defenses need to run multiple players at him as quickly as possible once the transition opportunity materializes. Although Smith became a much more controlled player his junior season, he can still be susceptible to turnovers or rushed shots when he gets moving too fast. Flooding him with defenders could leave the defense exposed elsewhere but teams could find some success in getting the ball out of Smith’s hand in transition and forcing his teammates to beat them in this facet.

The following clips from the NCAA tournament begin to show how defenses can execute this strategy. In the first clip, after Smith picks up the loose ball, Trey Burke immediately attempts to cut him off instead of giving him a little bit of space in midcourt before taking a harder approach once Smith gets closer to the three point line. Nik Stauskas then runs toward Smith and helps finish off the turnover.


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Written by Joshua Riddell

October 4, 2013 at 2:44 am

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