A Defensive Breakdown: What Are We Doing Wrong?

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  • #111911

    xphoenix87
    Moderator

    The N.C. State Wolfpack have defensive problems. That’s no secret. There’s been no shortage of discussion about it among State fans. Often, though, our discussions of defensive problems are abstract and vague, commonly resorting to the old “they just don’t want it enough” line of critique. That’s natural, it’s far easier to see what players are good at and bad at offensively, and we’ve got more numbers to describe what’s happening at that end. Defense is hard, it’s a complex system, and giving up a wide open layup might be the result of a bunch of smaller errors. My intent in this post is to give a little clarity to exactly what our defensive failings are as a basketball team.

    First of all, what are we bad at in a big picture sense? In his seminal book “Basketball on Paper”, statistician Dean Oliver describes the “Four Factors” that characterize offense and defense (listed in decreasing order of significance): 1) Shooting percentage (represented by eFG%), 2) Getting offensive rebounds (OReb%), 3) Committing turnovers (TOV%) 4) Getting to the free throw line (FTA/FGA). If you’re good at all those things (high percentage of 1,2,4 and low percentage of 3), you’ll have a really good offense. If you’re good at keeping your opponent from those things, you’ll be good at defense. It’s a really simple high level view of what your team is good at. So, what is NC State good at and bad at on defense? The following graphic shows our overall defensive rating (that’s AdjD), along with the defensive 4 factors, from each year under Mark Gottfried, as well as the numbers for Gottfried’s Alabama teams (via KenPom.com). The colored numbers are the actual percentages, the smaller numbers underneath are national rankings.

    Defensive Stats

    There’s some variation there, and you can see how ugly things have been so far this year, but the main causes of concern are those middle two columns. We are bad at protecting the glass on defense, and we are very, very bad at forcing turnovers. What’s more, this is not just an N.C. State thing. It seems to be systemic to Gottfried’s defensive approach, and that’s a problem. It doesn’t matter how good you are at making your opponents miss shots (and we have ranged from good to terrible) if you keep giving them extra possessions.

    Well that’s the big picture, but what are the problems on the floor that lead to those bad numbers? That’s what we’re going to take a look at in the rest of this post. I’m going to illustrate these using video examples from the Illinois game. Now, this is one game of tape, so it’s possible that a player will look better or worse than average in these examples, but I’m less interested in individual players than I am in the systematic approach we’re taking at the defensive end. The examples I’m using aren’t just because I found a particular problem in this one game, but because they’re things I’ve taken note of in game after game over the years. So, to the tape!

    Entry Passes

    Quick, when was the last time you saw N.C. State steal an entry pass to a big man? Better yet, when was the last game we consistently sent double teams at opposing big men? One of the things that immediately jumps out from the Illinois game is how easy the post entry passes were, and how little pressure we put on those big men once they got the ball.

    Did you see how easy it was for Illinois to get the ball to their bigs in pretty good position every time? Even when they miss the shot, they’re getting quality looks at the rim, and there is very little risk of a turnover. There are no annoying guards pinching down on them to swat at the ball when they dribble. There are no cross-lane doubles to force the big man into a tough pass. There is nothing to throw them out of a rhythm or prevent them from just slowly backing their way to the rim. I purposefully picked plays where the Illinois big men weren’t doing a lot to get open. They weren’t making really hard cuts or running screening actions, they just kind of walked down to the block and turned around. In none of these instances would it have been difficult for our post players to fight them for position and try to deny the entry pass. Heck, a few of these passes are vertical passes from the elbow, rather than diagonal passes from the wings. You’re taught not to throw those straight-line passes because they’re too easy to intercept (much like cross-court passes), only we seem to have no interest in intercepting them. Now, I understand that Beejay Anya is a good post defender. Maybe the plan is to let them make that pass and try to score on him. If so, it’s a bad plan. First, making him defend on an island exposes him to fouls far more than if he were trying to deny the initial pass (as seen in how he gets caught reaching multiple times). Second, even if that’s the case with Anya, it sure isn’t the case with Abu, who is not a good post defender. Third, it provides easy escape valves for the offense, who can always make an easy pass to the post instead of a difficult pass somewhere else (more on this in a second). In this game, all of this resulted in Illinois going 6 for 8 on these easy post ups, with 2 fouls on Beejay to boot. That’s a really bad result.

    So, what should our post defense look like? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Ted Kapita, who gets a gold star for this game:

    Now, look particularly at this first play. It ends with Markell Johnson getting a steal, but he gets that steal because Kapita fronting the post takes away the first option on the play. With that pass shut down #1 on Illinois is forced to pass back out to the top, where Johnson is waiting to pounce. This is what I was referring to above. It’s really hard to pressure opponents when you always give them an easy safety valve. Here, with the post closed down, Illinois had to make a riskier pass, resulting in a turnover. We see that two other times in the video, this nearly leads to a steal. Now, the wings miss the steal in both those cases, but what it does is makes the offense scramble. We’ve taken them out of their comfort zone and they have to make several correct decisions to take advantage of it. It puts pressure on them, which is something we rarely do on defense.

    So, what improvements can we make here? The simplest thing we can say is that we should be contesting entry passes. This doesn’t mean fully fronting opposing bigs every time, but it does mean fighting for position, playing on the high side of them, and getting a hand in the way to keep those passes from being easy. Make the opposing team work if they want to enter the ball in the post. All of our big men are capable of doing this, they have the length and athleticism to contest those passes. Moreover, an added benefit of this is that you’re encouraging active defense rather than passive defense. When you play this kind of defense, it keeps you mentally sharp. You have to fight your man for position, you have to know where the ball is. It makes you less likely to make the brain fart breakdowns that yield wide-open shots. Secondly, our guards and wings should be more active once the ball goes into the post. There are two reasons why you send help at post players. The first reason is because they’re a really good scorer and you have to double them or they’ll eat you alive. This is what most people think of when they think of doubling the post. The other reason you do so, though, is because most big men aren’t good passers. College big men in particular are usually pretty bad at reading those double teams and making the right plays. So you might send help at a guy who isn’t really a threat to score because you’re trying to create a turnover. Right now, big men are too comfortable against us. Watch that first video again and make note of how many times they get to dribble 2 or 3 times with no one even remotely close to them. If a wing even takes a hard step towards them, you probably get them to pick up that dribble. We have to be more creative in our post defense schemes.

    Baseline Out of Bounds

    Honestly, I don’t have much to say here. The tape pretty much speaks for itself.

    Why? Why is this our scheme? It’s so utterly inexplicable. So, what we have here appears to be something halfway between a man defense and a 2-3 zone. A lot of teams will go 2-3 on baseline OOB because it gives you good rim protection and is less vulnerable to screening action. We have a big man (Abu/Kapita) guarding the inbounds pass and a guard/wing (Dorn/Johnson) sitting in the lane to block off any easy passes for layups. Everyone else is playing man…kind of. It’s genuinely difficult to figure out what everyone is doing. The big problem is this though: we’re not in a pure zone, and there’s a big man guarding the inbounds pass regardless of if it’s his man inbounding the ball (most of the time it won’t be). So here’s what that leads to. In the first play, Abu is guarding the pass, but #43 is the man Abu will be guarding once the ball is inbounded. #43 cuts to the corner and he’s wide open. We’re not in a zone, so there’s no one dedicated to watching that corner, and Abu is on the pass, so he’s not covering it. Even though it’s a relatively short distance to cover, there’s no way Abu is going to get a good contest on that shot, and he shouldn’t have to. It’s a schematic breakdown, and it didn’t require anything more complicated than having one guy run to the corner. On the second play, the pass comes in and Kapita immediately turns to find his man. This is exactly what he should do. Now Smith, Johnson or Henderson should be running over to guard the passer as he steps inbounds. Neither of them do so, but it also doesn’t really matter, it happens too quickly. All he has to do is step inbounds and receive the pass and he’s wide open. That’s going to happen every time. I just can’t explain why this is the game plan. There are two things you cannot concede on a baseline OOB play, layups and corner threes. We played these two plays in a way designed to give up corner threes. It is mind-boggling.

    Now, maybe this is supposed to be a zone and the players executed poorly. Maybe it’s a fault of execution and not strategy (I’m skeptical of that, but it’s possible). It doesn’t really matter. This was the 7th game of the season, you should have your baseline out of bounds defense set in stone by game 1. Two massive mistakes like these are errors of preparation, pure and simple.

    That’s all for now, I’m still working on typing out the rest of it. There’ll be 3-4 more sections over the next day or two on off-ball complacency, awareness, boxing out, and pick&roll defense. So, to be continued…

    #111912

    pakfanistan
    Participant

    This is the best critique of Gott I’ve ever seen. I love the inclusion of concrete examples.

    #111913

    MrPlywood
    Participant

    When I saw the title I thought “It would be easier to say what they are doing right.” And I was right. 🙂

    #111914

    StateRed44
    Participant

    Very enlightening. Thanks for doing this.

    #111915

    choppack1
    Participant

    Was Gottfried at Bama 10 years? There is only 8 years from Bama. (Not being critical, I just w to call out the obvious diminishing returns of his defense the longer he coached his recruits vs. the players he inherited from previous coach.)

    #111916

    xphoenix87
    Moderator

    I think Pomeroy’s database only goes back to 2002.

    #111917

    choppack1
    Participant

    Ahh. Well, I think the data you provided is quite enough to show the trend.:).

    Good work.

    #111918

    TheCOWDOG
    Moderator

    These 2 OBs are failures at the wing. Each D coverage was a different call. Either that, or Abu is hopelessly lost on the 2nd play.

    It’s man with a big on ball. When you do that you must hang with who ya got til the switch comes.

    What’s funny is that had the shots not gone down, the glass issue was in full view, too. Note the awful attempts at boxing out.

    Let’s keep it here, X.

    #111919

    xphoenix87
    Moderator

    These 2 OBs are failures at the wing. Each D coverage was a different call. Either that, or Abu is hopelessly lost on the 2nd play.

    It’s man with a big on ball. When you do that you must hang with who ya got til the switch comes.

    If that’s the case, 1) Man with big on ball is, and has always been, a terrible strategy, since it trades giving up a mismatch for little marginal gain in ball pressure, 2) We botch the execution of it horrifically.

    There’s also still the question of what the heck is going on with the first play, where Henderson appears to be playing man, everyone else kind of looks like they’re playing zone, and #43 runs right through the middle of the defense and goes completely unchecked. That’s kind of what I was getting at at the end. I don’t know if it’s a failure of scheme or of execution (I suspect it’s some of both) since we mangle it so badly, but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the cause, you shouldn’t be having those kind of fundamental breakdowns on routine plays this far into the season.

    #111921

    TheCOWDOG
    Moderator

    X, I say that because I fail to see a single component of the “Standard 2-3”. It’s abundantly clear that they fu#t it up so badly, they might have been in a zone!

    That 1st one was not on the scheme. That was good scouting and a quick release. Mind you, I ain’t in the mood to defend coaching, and I’m not.

    #111926

    BJD95
    Keymaster

    And Lord knows if’n I know State hoops…we still will have no clue how to defend a baseline OOB play in January. And February. I will scare the everloving crap out of one or both of my cats as a direct result of said failures too, because I simply cannot learn to let that one slide. Just kills me every time.

    #111927

    BJD95
    Keymaster

    Let me echo that this stuff is really aces and it’s awesome to have detailed hoops x and o analysis like this on the site. Keep it comin’!!

    #111928

    JeremyH
    Participant

    Really nice lucid job on this, thanks.

    In the illustration of fronting the post player by Ted, I’m curious if that was a coaching adjustment or a player just defending based on experience/skill. I think in general for Markell his active hands and bothersome man-to-man is the latter, but would love to see it taught.

    I’m no guru but why not just play it safe with man-to-man on inbounds? That in-between defense just looks like confusion.

    There were some recent interesting conversations on attacking Virgina’s pack-line defense, and outside of that, what small improvements that have a defensive impact that we just don’t use, like hedging on the pick ‘n roll. If pick n’ roll defense as well as poor or non-existent help defense makes it into your next post, that would be fitting. Often times we see that if the defender is driven past, its automatic points.

    #111929

    Adventuroo
    Participant

    Suggestion,

    Get Jim Harrick’s email address. Send it to him. He is our “consultant” and the only one that Gottfried will listen to.

    This was a great analysis…..not to put it down….but if you break BOTH of your legs (Compound puncture fractures) and are laying on the concrete, then you are NOT going to get up.

    Now, the EMS CAN go into an explanation of WHY you can not stand. He can also cite many years of observing folks with broken legs.

    Question is….as many have opined….now does you FIXIT?. The answer is simple. Herbie had a set routine and did NOT deviate. GOttfried is a shooter and an offensive “exhibitionist”. If we had hired Whittenberg instead of Lowe, we would have had a team of SHOOTERS and not passers or defenders. You teach what you KNOW (instinctively) and you NEED someone to compliment you. We had (although some would say ineffective) that in Bobby Lutz. Defense and Scouting were HIS assigned duties….BOTTOM LINE. Somewhere, the personalities got into a clash which resulted in shouting matches and name calling in practice….and in the locker room. Every watch a family try to teach or discipline a child when BOTH have different approaches and agendas and then ARGUE about who is right? Are the kids confused? OF COURSE. SO, the axe fell and Bobby is in Chicago or somewhere….and our Defense is still in the box of personal effects that he took when he left the Dail center.

    No ONE KNOWS it is missing. NO ONE KNOWS how to teach or coach defense. We went with RECRUITING….of OFFENSIVE stars. The theory is simple….if you score enough, you do NOT have to defend. Ask ORW or Mikey if THEY subscribe to that theory. Jimmy V was a master at sizing up a team (he did not do enough prep) and then adjusting as the game went on. That came from his first years as a Freshman or JV coach. You did NOT have video (back then, film) of your opponents…..so you tried to stay above water during the first half and then make adjustments at the half.

    What is happening, in my opinion, is that we are NOT adjusting at ALL during the half and the OTHER coach is adjusting his Defense and Offense….so we score less and they score more.

    However, the stats are great….they show, statistically, what the deficiencies ARE….on paper. They then substantiate the GUT feeling….

    #111939

    Rick
    Keymaster

    This is a fantastic piece and highlights the main problem I have with Gottfrie (no D in that name). It is bewildering why he does not address it. Everyone, and I mean everyone, sees it. I just don’t understand it and it will keep him from every accomplishing anything worthwhile.

    #111944

    choppack1
    Participant

    Come on, if you played the game, you know the difference between a coach who is passionate about D and one who is not.

    And truthfully, that’s a big part of it – the passion and pride you take in stopping your opponent – or at the very least making him uncomfortable. Say what you want about DD and Hux – but I guarantee you no team looked forward to trying to run the ball on us.

    I don’t Gott has that inate passion for D. If he was a football coach his teams would look like those Mike Leach Texas Tech teams – where all his good athletes were on offense.

    Also, as a result of that lack of passion – our offense and it’s effectiveness “feeds” our d. Translation – you see second halves like we saw vs Illinois and Creighton.

    I am not looking forward to watching Kapita’s and Marquell’s defense regress, but I can almost guarantee you that it will.

    #111945

    Prowling Woofie
    Participant

    Awesome work, X.

    Love this….

    #111946

    VaWolf82
    Keymaster

    Thanks for putting this together. I’ll have to take some time to fully digest it outside of work.

    There are alot of “advanced” statistical measures that I don’t fully grasp. But State’s defense isn’t good, by even the simplest measures…pts per game.

    As of today’s stats from CBS, State ranks 6th in the ACC (59th nationally) in pts per game. Not great, but not horrible.
    But on defense, State ranks 15th in the ACC and 286th nationally in opponents pts per game. That translates to State’s defense being in the bottom quarter in all of college basketball (351 teams).

    http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/teams/rpi/NCST/nc-state-wolfpack

    #111950

    BJD95
    Keymaster

    Congrats to xp87 (for short), having been promoted to people’s commisariat (Author/Moderator status) in honor of writing skills, service to wolven proletariat, and of course, commitment to Glorious Soviet Revolution. FORWARD!

    /also let us know if you have any questions

    #111951

    BJD95
    Keymaster

    also, this means you can directly post next installment to front page, if you would like

    #111952

    Wulfpack
    Participant

    State ranks 15th in the ACC and 286th nationally in opponents pts per game. That translates to State’s defense being in the bottom quarter in all of college basketball (351 teams).

    Considering the competition we have faced (for most games), that is putrid.

    #111953

    Whiteshoes67
    Participant

    xphoenix’s posts on our defense for several years now have always been spot on. Gott’s response: “somewhere along the line, in third or fourth grade, you learn to not gamble, to stay between your man and the ball,” or “we know what to do, we’re just not doing that” (lack of execution–sound familiar?) and it’s youth…or something to that effect. Uhhh…sorry Gott, the numbers don’t lie. For what it’s worth, Henderson was one of WVU’s better defensive players, often tasked with matching up with the opposing team’s best scorer when on the court.

    That was the most interesting takeaway from the article on Gott’s offseason issues/events, that Lutz was replaced by a recruiters. he simply thinks he’s losing because we’ve been getting out-talented, out-scored, and he needs more guns. Never a problem with defense, ever. The excuse this year, already in the works, is that we were young, inexperienced, and our full complement of players wasn’t available, and had trouble meshing..No matter that he always has difficulty meshing players..

    My reminder every year…his first team was his best with the Pack, and there’s a reason for that..

    #111955

    Wulfpack
    Participant

    Oh, phenomenal entry by the way. Well done.

    #111957

    Texpack
    Participant

    The other thing to note is that our FG% defense tracks our allowed OR%. We give up a lot of points via second shots.

    Teaching defense is very very simple. Man, ball, basket. You put your back to the basket. You watch your man out of one eye and the ball out of the other. The farther away from the ball and/or the basket your man is, the more you sag off of your man. You have to adjust your sag factor according to his shooting abilities. This creates natural help against dribble penetration. It also creates it from the person whose man is farthest from the ball which allows more time for rotation/recovery when there is a kick out. It creates more opportunities in passing lanes. If you watch film of Bobby Knight’s best Indiana teams, you will see this played almost to perfection.

    You play a zone with these very same man-to-man principles, only you don’t follow the same man all over the court.

    You also have to drill on foot work and taking the right angles to cut off drives, but that is relatively simple. Other than GFK and KH we put a fairly athletic group out on the floor so all of this can be done if it is demanded.

    #111958

    VaWolf82
    Keymaster

    also, this means you can directly post next installment to front page, if you would like

    Welcome to the wonderful world of WordPress.

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