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Boston College Basketball: Breaking Down The Defense - Part I - Transition D

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transition defense only one of many areas the Eagles are currently struggling with

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As I finish this, BC has just been essentially embarrassed at USC. Although I didn't see the game, I listened to it and although we'll spent a lot of time talking technically about what can be done below, at this point, this is not about coaching points, this is about effort and toughness. Until that is solved, nothing I write here really matters.

I ran into one of my coaching buddies the other night, who also happens to be a Boston College basketball season ticket holder and asked him if he had caught the Purdue game on Wednesday night.

"Not an ounce of toughness in any of them", was his assessment.

Listening to Danya Abrams on the USC broadcast tonight he had a similar comment, noting that although the coaching staff has stressed toughness over their eight day layoff, it's really not something you coach, you either have it or don't have it.

Toughness shows itself in many ways, whether it be half court defense, rebounding or our topic now, transition defense. In the vast majority of games I have seen to date, BC has had major trouble defending in transition.

Having coached at the high school and college level for 24 years, I realize that often times what we see on the court does not necessarily equate to what the team works on in practice or what the coaches would desire. Also, it is important to note than in fairness to everyone involved, there is more than one way to skin a cat and what I believe defensively is not the only approach that can be taken. That said, there are some key concepts that are killing BC in transition defense.

Let's start with discussing goals of defending in transition.

  1. Get five guys ahead of the ball. Sounds obvious, but this is so big. Those of you who have played pickup games in the past know that it becomes harder to score the more players there are on the floor. So games played with 5 players on a side are harder to score in than with 3 on a side. This means that all five players must sprint back on defense. Most coaches will send either 3 or 4 to the offensive glass leaving a guard back to start solidifying the defensive end. Some coaches though will send 1 or sometimes even none to the glass (the Doc Rivers Celtics were examples of this) and really focus on limiting transition. This sprint back of course requires maximum effort. Like many sports, 90% effort produces 50% results, so even the slightest delay from an all out sprint may be costly, particularly against a team really determined to fast break.
  2. Secure the paint and work out from there. Threes in transition can be momentum shifting events, but in general, games are now and always will be won by what you do in the paint. Preventing layups is the first priority, then closing out to the perimeter players can come next. Closing out is a concept we will review another time and that is something BC also has major problems with.
  3. Stop the ball as early as possible. Of all the issues that BC has, this may be the biggest. Think in terms of milliseconds and not seconds for a moment. If the the defender taking the ball can simply send the offensive player off a straight line to the basket, delay him somewhat, that allows the other defenders time to get back. If the defender can do better and actually control that ball handler, before that player gets into the lane and open up a direct scoring opportunity, that's much better. Now I am not saying you simply run at the man with the ball, all that will lead to is them throwing it ahead even more quickly, so that takes what may be a 3 on 2 break and can turn it into a 2 on 1. From point 1 above.
  4. Get matched up as best you can. It is far more important to play someone in transition than to play your man. While it would be optimal to get properly matched up, transition is scramble mode by its nature, so finding someone, communicating and then getting back to your man, is just fine.
  5. Don't get pushed under the rim when rebounding. This one is a bit counter intuitive to #1 above, but think about it. When you really push the ball, you tend to run back not only into the paint but all the way to the basket. You don't slow down to get matched up on the perimeter and that is a reason that three point shots in transition, or even more so, wide open jump shots for trailers on the fast break tend to be so open, because all of the defenders are pinned inside the lane and often under the rim. That can be much more problematic than you would think when it comes to rebounding. Take a look at the restrictive circle that was put in last year to define where you can and can't take charges. I'll tell you if you get pushed inside that circle defensively, forget about it. The only rebound you will get is the one that comes through the net.

Grant Salzano was kind enough to create these animated GIFs showing two sequences during the Purdue game and they illustrate the issues the Eagles are having.

In number one, we have an open court live ball turnover. This is generally death to the defense. I'll take travelling violations or throwing the ball out of bounds vs a live ball turnover any chance I can get. At least in those other situations I can get my defense set and see what happens, with a live ball turnover, that can't happen.

    So let's break it down, based on the items above.

  1. Five guys do not get back into the play. KC Caudill is the last person back and although he seems to be running pretty hard (remember, it's Caudill we are talking about) he doesn't figure in actually stopping the break. Eddie Odio busts his ass to get back into the play after turning it over and tries at least to make a play by blocking a shot, but when he can't, he effectively runs himself out of the play. Dragicevich and Rahon really jog back and never get into the play...they are spectators.
  2. There is no time to secure the paint. At least they don't run out to the perimeter, but there is no one out on the perimeter to cover...Purdue is attacking the rim.
  3. Get the ball stopped. There isn't much that Hanlon can do here but get back into the paint. He has no support around him and needs to protect the rim. What he could do though is something to put indecision into the ball handler's mind. A great way to do this is simply fake quickly at the ball handler and retreat..fake and retreat. See how close Dragievich is and if Hanlon can simply buy a few tenths of a second, the ball may be knocked out of bounds on that pass across the lane rather than turn into a layup and once again the defense has a chance to get set.
  4. No chance here to get matched up for obvious reasons.
  5. This is the real big problem in the play. By the time this is over, 5 BC players wind up inside the restricted area. They are simply too deep, don't box out and it turns into a jumping contest, which being that close to the rim, they will never win. The result once Caudill gets there and flattens Purdue's Peck is a three point play. Just watch Olivier Hanlon and you see what I am talking about. He just jumps at nothing and contributes nothing to the rebounding effort, that would in all defensive situations signal a successful completed possession.
The second one to me is far more egregious.

BC sends two to the offensive glass but seemingly is in good position to defend. The ball handler is really not pushing the ball hard, I would call it 2/3rd speed at best, particularly when comparing it to the first example. BC actually has a 4 on 3 advantage defensively.

Joe Rahon is in good position to challenge the ball handler, but decides not to do so and just gets back into the paint, but so much deeper than you would like and doesn't stop the ball until it gets all the way to block and ultimately commits a blocking foul. Danny Rubin also makes what can only be called a weak wave to give help.

Rubin's position to help is awful. Notice how flat to the baseline he is when he reaches in. He is at the the same level as the offensive player he is guarding. To assist in stopping the ball, Rubin should be far higher, almost in a position along a straight line between the dribbler and Rubin's offensive player. This would put him in a spot to help get the ball stopped long before it gets into the lane, probably close to the corner of the free throw line and even if it is kicked out to the perimeter, Rubin would have time to recover and drive that man toward the baseline. Far more preferable than having it driven middle, which is something that happens all too often now as well.

Finally look at the effort getting back. It isn't horrible, but what they do is run back with the pack and not ahead of it. This goes back to the 90% effort resulting in 50% results.

Next we'll look at BC defending in the halfcourt...I can say, it won't be any prettier.