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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/30/2008 10:38:00 AM

Xs and Os: UCLA's Hedging On Ball-Screens

(Editor's note: In the interest of giving you a coach's angle on the NCAA tournament, we've enlisted Bruno Chu of the blog The X's and O's of Basketball to provide a series of guest posts during the dance. Today's topic is a tactic that's been a key part of Ben Howland's defense at UCLA. Bruno takes it over from here.)

One of UCLA's best defensive traits is its ability to defend ball screens. The Bruins have been using the hedge almost exclusively all season, and on Sunday, it bothered Xavier by making guard Drew Lavender unable to turn the corner off of ball-screens and create plays. Here are a few sequences from the first half that show Kevin Love hedging the Musketeers' ball-screens:



The Hedge: There are a few ways coaches and commentators refer to this: Some say a player is "showing hard" on the screen, and others call it a "hard hedge," but it all means the same thing. Basically what happens is, the screener's defender comes out to impede the ballhandler's progress, forcing him to take a few retreat steps. This allows the original defender to recover from the screen, and then lets the screener's defender recover back to his original man. In UCLA's case, Love does a great job each time on the hedge. On a couple of occasions, he even slightly bumped Lavender, further slowing him down:



The other important key about the hedge is for the help-side defenders to rotate and gap the other players, specifically to protect the basket. In the image below, Love tells Lorenzo Mata-Real to cover the rolling man until Love is able to get back into position:


The hedge maneuver is not the easiest defensive concept to master. It requires plenty of practice to be good at it and not give up easy baskets to the screener, which would be counter-productive. Howland's team is a prime example of one that uses it well -- enough so that the Bruins are headed to the Final Four.

Previous Xs-and-Os Breakdowns:
Washington State's Pack-line Defense
Arkansas' Crunch-Time Plays
How Stanford Feeds the Lopez Twins
West Virginia's Hybrid Open-Post Princeton Offense

(Read more from Bruno Chu, a high-school coach in Vancouver, B.C., on his excellent blog: The X's and O's of Basketball.)

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3/23/2008 02:45:00 PM

Xs and Os: West Virginia's "Hybrid Open-Post Princeton" Offense

(Ed.'s note: In the interest of giving you a coach's angle on the NCAA tournament, we've enlisted Bruno Chu of the blog The X's and O's of Basketball to provide a series of guest posts during the dance. Today's topic is an interesting offensive development out of Morgantown. Bruno takes it over from here.)

What happens when a John Beilein-coached team falls into the hands of Bob Huggins? At West Virginia, the result was a truly unique hybrid offense, combining Beilein's Princeton-styled five-out scheme with Huggins' Open Post Motion. This system, which I've marveled at all season, is similar to Duke's in that the Mountaineers also shoot a lot of three-pointers. But WVU has an increased number of backdoor options and is more motion-based than the Blue Devils. Here are a few ways WVU scored on Duke in its second-round upset:

Off-ball Screening Options: In this series of two plays, West Virginia runs the same action. It gets to a four-out situation and an off-ball screen is set for star forward Joe Alexander. Depending on how the defense plays the screen, Alexander will either curl off shoulder-to-shoulder all the way to the rim, or V-cut back to the ball for the three-pointer.

In the first diagram, the defense tries to trail over the top of the screen with no switch, allowing Alexander to get all the way to the basket and finishes while being fouled:



In the second diagram, the defense decides to go underneath the screen; Alexander sees this and V-cuts to get an open look from beyond the arc:



Shuffle Cut: With the shot clock winding down, Mountaineers guard Alex Ruoff reads a defensive overplay by the Blue Devils' Jon Scheyer. Ruoff fakes coming to the ball, then shuffle-cuts to the corner to receive the pass for the catch-and-shoot three:



West Virginia's motion may have been the perfect antidote for Duke's overly aggressive D. When the Mountaineers meet Xavier in Phoenix on Thursday, they'll see a more traditional, keep-in-front man-to-man, but Huggins' hybrid offense is good enough to continue generating open looks for the likes of Ruoff and Alexander.

Previous Xs-and-Os Breakdowns:
Washington State's Pack-line Defense
Arkansas' Crunch-Time Plays
How Stanford Feeds the Lopez Twins

(Read more from Bruno Chu, a high-school coach in Vancouver, B.C., on his excellent blog: The X's and O's of Basketball.)

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3/21/2008 02:05:00 PM

Xs and Os: Wazzu's Pack-Line Defense

(Ed.'s note: There are things that this blog is good at (or at least I'd like to think so): chasing around 16 seeds, posting amateurish photos from my Canon Elph, and promoting our pool on Facebook. I am not, however, entirely qualified to provide you with a thorough breakdown of a team's defensive scheme. That's why the blog has enlisted an expert -- coach Bruno Chu of the blog The X's and O's of Basketball -- to give us a few guest posts during the dance. The third: a look at how Washington State managed to suffocate its first-round foe in Denver. Bruno takes it over from here.)

In Washington State's first-round win over Winthrop on Thursday, the Cougars put together one of the best defensive halves I've ever seen. They managed to turn a game that was 29-29 at half into a 71-40 rout, mostly by making adjustments such as switching point guard Derrick Low onto the Eagles' top scorer, Chris Gaynor.

What makes Wazzu so great on defense, though, is its system. Dick Bennett, the father of current Cougs coach Tony, created the pack-line D and installed it when he arrived in Pullman. Tony stuck with it, and in the two years that he has been head coach, WSU has ranked in the top 20 in the nation in defensive efficiency (finishing 12th in 2007-08).



The Pack-line: It's not significantly different than your traditional man-to-man defense; all the fundamentals are there. But what the Cougs do is put pressure on whichever player has the ball, and then all of their other defenders play help-side, or in coach-speak, "up the line" D.


The reason it's called a pack-line is because all of WSU's defenders -- except the one on the ball -- must stay inside an imaginary line. When a pass is made, the defender is taught to close out toward the ball with proper footwork and high hands, in order to prevent the shot. The other Cougars rotate to provide help-side D.

The real advantage in running the pack-line D is that it prevents dribble penetration and forces teams to shoot from the outside. It also makes it easy to double-down on the post, because it shortens the distances in between defenders.


When Wazzu faces Notre Dame in the second round on Saturday, the key will be whether or not the Irish are able to shoot well from the perimeter. If they hit threes to force the Cougs to stretch the pack-line to beyond the arc, that will open up ample opportunities for Luke Harangody in the post.

(Read more from Bruno Chu, a high-school coach in Vancouver, B.C., on his excellent blog: The X's and O's of Basketball.)

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3/16/2008 03:31:00 PM

Xs and Os: Arkansas' Late-Game Plays

There are things that this blog is good at (or at least I'd like to think so): on-site reporting, posting amateurish photos from my Canon Elph, doing light statistical analysis, begging you to join the Facebook pool. I am not, however, entirely qualified to provide you with a thorough breakdown of a team's offensive sets.

That's why the blog has turned to an expert -- coach Bruno Chu of The X's and O's of Basketball -- to give us a few guest posts during the dance. The latest: A look at the crunch-time prowess of Arkansas' post players. Bruno takes it over from here:


How did Arkansas pull out its nail-biting, 92-91 win over Tennessee in Saturday's SEC tournament semifinal? While the Razorbacks have a game-changing guard in Patrick Beverley, the result was decided by bigger boys down low. Here are three key, late-game plays that sealed the victory for Arkansas and set up Sunday's SEC finale against Georgia:



There's nothing crazy about the plays you saw above, but what they do show is that you don't have to run a 1-4 low or side isolation play for your best guard to win a game. Running an off-ball pick-and-roll or a back-screen to free up a big man can work just as well. Here are the sets that coach John Pelphrey utilized:

The UCLA Screen: It's amazing how, after so many decades of use, this play can still work to perfection. Almost every team in the world has a UCLA backdoor screen somewhere in its playbook. The play the Hogs run here is a give-and-go with a UCLA screen that sets up a nice alley-oop for Sonny Weems.



Off-ball Screen-and-Slip: When you run screens for guards in crunch-time situations, most people assume that the ball is going to the guard. But because most coaches instruct their players to switch off of all picks in these moments, it's easy for the screener to slip the screen and go right to the basket. That's what Charles Thomas does here -- and even though he blows the layup, Darian Townes comes to the rescue with the tip-in.



It's been an up-and-down season for the Razorbacks, but as these plays prove, they'll be a difficult team to defend in the final minutes of NCAA tournament games. Stopping them isn't as simple as shutting down Beverley on the perimeter -- do only that, and you're liable to get burned on the inside.

(Read more from Bruno Chu, a high-school coach in Vancouver, B.C., on his excellent blog: The X's and O's of Basketball.)

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3/14/2008 10:43:00 AM

Xs And Os: Breaking Down the Lopez Twins

There are things that this blog is good at (or at least I'd like to think so): on-site reporting, posting amateurish photos from my Canon Elph, doing light statistical analysis, begging you to join the Facebook pool. I am not, however, entirely qualified to provide you with a thorough breakdown of a team's offensive sets.

That's why the blog has turned to an expert -- coach Bruno Chu of The X's and O's of Basketball -- to give us a few guest posts during the dance. The first: a look at how Stanford manages to get the ball to the Lopez twins despite double-teams in the post. Arizona used this tactic on Thursday in the Pac-10 tournament. Bruno takes it over from here:


The maturity that Brook and Robin Lopez have gained as sophomores has allowed Stanford coach Trent Johnson to move them around as defenses attempt to adjust to their low-post presence. Thursday's win over Arizona was a perfect example of how a team can utilize all the skills of its big men and keep them involved in the offense despite fronting defenses and swarming double-teams. These five sequences from the game show various ways Stanford moved around the Lopezes to get them open looks:



When you have two 7-footers, there are plenty of things you can do on offense. I like the way Stanford adjusts within the game to stay focused on pounding the ball down low. Just because the defense is trying to take away your best offensive option doesn't mean you should go away from it. You should counter-attack and beat the defense while still accomplishing your goal.

To start the game, Arizona decided to double the Lopez twins on the dribble. This proved futile: the Lopez twins are fast enough to catch the ball, make a move and score before the double-team could affect them. Here are four ways in which Stanford was able to continue to feed the Lopezes:

Pick-and-Roll: This is one of the most potent offenses to use with a dynamic big man, because it provides you with so many options. Almost every NBA team uses it.



Give-and-Go: Most people think this is only for guards, but it can be just as effective for forwards. The key here is that once you get your big man moving in space, it's very difficult to defend -- especially when the defender sags to help in the low post.



High-Post Dive: In the Hi-Lo offense, forwards are taught that when the ball is entered in the low post, and they are in the high post, they should dive to the low post. That's essentially what happens here: Robin gets the ball, Brook dives to the low post, and he catches a pass for the easy lay-in.



Lob Over Fronting Defense: This is the simplest strategy. If the defense decides to front, Stanford can make a well-timed lob pass to one of the Lopezes, who catches, keeps the ball above his head, and shoots.



Friday's meeting between Stanford and Washington State is going to be quite a treat. The key for the Cougars will be how they choose to defend the Lopez twins. They play the pack-line D, which should give them advantages automatically in help-side defense, but they lack solid shot-blockers that can challenge the Lopez twins. Even so, the last two times these teams met, the Cardinal won by single-digits, so it should be a great game.

(Read more from Bruno Chu, a high-school coach in Vancouver, B.C., on his excellent blog: The X's and O's of Basketball.)

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