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Coach's Corner: UC Irvine - BC Basketball

What could the Eagles have done differently against the Anteaters?

Jim Christian looking for answers in Fullerton
Jim Christian looking for answers in Fullerton
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Our basketball analyst John "Coach" Fidler breaks down BC's performance versus UC Irvine.

These types of games are going to happen with a young team.  A back to back affair that virtually never happens at the high school level, combined with a 3000 mile road trip, playing a team essentially in its backyard that is a favorite to win its conference and coming off the season's first loss, albeit against a team that may wind up in Houston at the Final Four in April.  These are some of the reasons (or excuses if you'd like) for the performance given by the Eagles on Friday afternoon against UC Irvine.

Rather than focus on why BC seemingly didn't show up to play against UCI, let's take a look at what they could have done differently on the strategy side to combat what they ran into.

The biggest challenge (literally) for BC was the size, experience and skill set of the Anteater big men.  7'6 center Mamadou Ndiaye, his backup 7'2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 6'10 power forward Mike Best were going to be problems for an Eagle team with limited depth up front and starting a 6'5 power forward in Garland Owens.

For those of you asking about Johncarlos Reyes and where he was as another body, I think the snippets of minutes he got at the end of the Michigan State game showed him as being overwhelmed physically and therefore, as Coach Christian shortened the bench, he became a casualty.

The UC Irvine guards, although featuring all Big West performer, Luke Nelson who leads the Anteaters in scoring at 14 ppg, were more pass first, shoot second types.  The key was how to stop the bigs at one end and how to execute offensively at the other, against  a team giving up 35% from the field for the year.

Let's start defensively.

Remember, this team is just five games into their first campaign together and very rarely will you see a more disjointed group of individuals than this team has now.  It's not that they are fighting with each other, but rather that they are fighting to understand each other and understand how they are being coached to execute, so it should not surprise anyone that they are struggling at the defensive end of the floor against teams more in line with what they will see in ACC play.

In the two games of the Wooden Classic, BC has allowed 89.5 ppg and 57% FG shooting by the opposition.  Through the first five games of the year, including the three wins, BC ranks #200 in the country in FG defense and #198 in the country in rebound percentage. Building defensive cohesion takes time.  Ideally, you would like to see the BC defense dictate to the offense, right now though, they are totally reactive and when that happens, you chase and that never works out well.

I have not been to practice, so it's not as if I know what's in the arsenal right now and what isn't. What is obvious is that the staff would like to be a solid, quarter court man to man defensive team, however what could they have done that might have helped stop the UCI attack?

  • Play more zone.  It doesn't appear that BC has a 2-3 zone in the mix at this point, but even giving up size, a zone just naturally protects inside and puts players around the post players.  BC gave up 40 points in the paint including 26 in the first half, in the second half, that number was just half that (14) and some of that was around the Eagles playing their 1-3-1 match up zone, but that wasn't shown at all in the opening frame.
  • Zones also give up more jump shots than layups and BC was simply dissected off the dribble by the Anteaters which contributed to a lot of those layups and second shot chances.
  • Press.  The Eagles didn't extend pressure until there were 48 seconds remaining in a game that had been decided.  They forced just four UCI turnovers all game, the first one came some 16 minutes into the contest.  At worst, token pressure would eat time off the shot clock and leave UCI with less time to execute their offense, at best it forces turnovers for scores. You can always go back and zone after you press.
  • Front the post and dig the ball out of the post.  I realize that Ndiaye is 7'6, but simply allowing him to catch the ball and then not getting help from any of the wing players was a recipe for disaster.  Fronting the post and forcing lobs with backside help, as well as using either the opposite post or ball side or even weak side wing to double the post always helps.  It took until BC went zone for them to attack Ndiaye once he caught the ball.  Otherwise, he was free to catch, dribble, essentially do what he wanted.  The same went for covering Best, for whom the Eagles, with Garland Owens at 6'5 giving up 5 inches, simply had no answer to.
  • Complementary to fronting the post, is pressuring the passer into the post.  Defending is a team operation and pressure on the passer, much like pressuring a QB in football, makes the job of the defensive back, or in this case, the post player, easier.

There are no black and whites here.  Alternating approaches and not letting an opponent get comfortable with what they see is critical.

So how about offensively?

This is where what I saw was more confusing.  The BC four out - one in, high ball screen offense seemed a perfect solution to attack UC Irvine.  Why?  The Eagle wing players seemed to have an advantage driving to the basket against the Anteater defenders and most importantly, putting Ndiaye in screen/roll coverage, while pulling him away from the basket would have been tremendous strategy.  When BC got back to running their normal sets in the second half, Ndiaye looked lost.  He didn't hedge, he didn't cover the rim, he played in no mans land and when the wings attacked off the dribble...he fouled.

What could BC have done here?

  • Run their normal set, for the reasons above.  Instead, for some reason, the first half plan was to allow Dennis Clifford to pull Ndiaye away from the basket and shoot jump shots.  This strategy took any aggressiveness away from BC.  They took just 1 free throw in the first half.
  • If you were that concerned with him, well fast break.  Much like attacking a zone, one of the main principles is beating the zone down the floor.  In this case, if you were concerned with the big man defensively, don't let him get in the play.  BC was credited with zero fast break points for the game.
  • Don't settle for jump shots.  They got away from jacking jumpers in the second half and the game evened out, but in the first half, when they got behind, they just took far too many.
Ultimately, although I get the impact of the UC Irvine big men, I thought the BC staff may have over analyzed the approach to beating them.

It will be very interesting to see how the Eagles come out tomorrow against Santa Clara who is winless at this point, but took Arizona to the wire in their first game.  BC needs at least a single win out of this to re-establish some momentum before heading home to face Penn State on December 2.