One thing that we try to encourage a lot around here is thought-provoking discussion. As Boston College's basketball team slips closer and closer to a winless winter, fans are growing increasingly impatient for a dramatic change in game theory. They're looking for the Eagles to do something desperate, one last ditch kitchen sink-type throw to go all-in and win a few league games.
The biggest change on people's lips these days centers around the concept of the press. Instead of bringing the ball over half court in a traditional setting, the Eagles would run the floor on both ends, pressure their opponents' offense and defense while using shorter "shifts" of players. It would be a radical shift from what we've seen, which is a half court man-to-man or zone defense opposite half-court offenses run through the point guard, Eli Carter.
Rather than shoot it down and just call the idea stupid, I spent the last day or so really looking into the nitty-gritty of what constitutes a pressure defense and what it would take to install. One thing I came up with is that it's not necessarily a bad idea at some points during the game, but to install it full time would be disastrous for the Eagles.
There are two types of press defense - zone and man-to-man (which sounds pretty basic because those two also exist for the half-court sets too, right?).
A full-court man-to-man defense pretty much extends the half-court set for the entire length of the court. It carries less risk than a zone defense, but it relies on the individual matchups for athleticism. If the inbound pass gets to the right player, a good ball-handler can carve it up and break it entirely by himself, thereby making the wing players exhausted by making them run and up down the court at full steam just to have one guy break the entire press himself.
The problem with this defense is that it relies entirely on athleticism. If you're going to extend the court, you better be able to keep the guy in front of you or make him make a mistake. It's less of a gamble than a full blown zone trap, but it's also a complete risk if you're not the more athletic team at all five positions.
If the ball-handler is able to break the press, you can stop it by committing a second player, but that leaves someone wide open. The amount of easy buckets that would occur in this scenario would be, for lack of a better term, bad.
The one positive to the man-to-man pressure defense is that it's really easy to implement since it uses the exact same ideology as the half-court defense, only extended to the greater court. But it makes me leery that a team like BC would implement it, simply because too many teams would run them off the court once they make an adjustment to it. That means, despite its inherent lack of risk because, it's actually risky when you're using a seven-man or eight-man rotation that's had foul trouble against teams that are, at present, more athletic.
I'm not sure if people assume man-to-man on the full court press or if they think about a zone defense. I think they're thinking more about a zone since it's what's most commonly seen on television when a player gets trapped in a corner with nowhere to go.
The full-court zone defense, as opposed to man-to-man, does exactly that: provides a zone based on positioning. Most zones start with a defender on the ball to defend the inbound pass, forcing a move to the left or right. Depending on where that left or right goes, the defenders on the side work to deny any move, either forcing towards the corners or by simply forcing the back towards the other side. The point is to prevent forward ball movement with the three or four guys who are playing up.
Zone defense has significantly more planning and implementation involved, and it requires substantially more practice. It needs to look like the denial side defenders are defending the ball, but the help defenders are protecting against whoever's left to try and defend against an easy lay-up.
Trapping in defense, which again is what I think people are frequently talking about, means two or three guys commit to the ball-handler, then sprint to help if he gets the pass off in the backcourt. Once the defender is dusted or loses the assignment, he has to sprint back to his own paint to defend against a layup.
In certain situations, this may work with practice, but it has a ton of risk involved. Every defender needs to be able to see the ball at all times. If the ball gets through the backcourt perimeter, the sideline defenders need to step up to the ball-handler or be able to switch off with whoever is sprinting back. Instead of trapping to the corner, they have to trap to the sidelines, which, again, has significant more risk involved.
There are basic principles to apply. Always have a player or two back to prevent the easy lay-up. Always spring back to the paint when you're beaten. When you've trapped the ball-handler, don't go for the ball and the steal, causing a reach-in foul, but instead just deny the passing lanes and force a move.
Honestly, the more and more I think about how complex it is to install a full-court zone, the worse of an idea it is for Boston College. The Eagles aren't fast enough to keep up with the rest of the ACC, and they aren't deep enough to allow for the inevitable foul trouble that comes with that frenetic pace. Pushing the teams will open the Eagles up to exhaustion, and they're already dealing with stamina issues as it is.
The counter argument I've heard is that BC should go deeper into their lineup, play more guys, and play them in shorter shifts. That's a bad idea. Some of those guys shouldn't be on the court except in emergency situations, and with BC dealing with injury issues, the bench is actually getting shorter and shorter. You can't open those guys up to physical exhaustion or foul trouble.
I consulted with a couple of basketball people about benefits and risks of a press defense. One of them said that switching BC to a press defense would be like BC football running a west coast offense for one game this past season. Sure it seems great because it's a radical idea, but in execution, it's asking for the game to be over before it ever really gets started.
The press defense is good in small doses, and I honestly think in a close game, late in the first half, I would like to see BC switch things up every now and then just to give a different look. I'm all about giving different looks and planning to execute surprises. But to put it in full-time would be asking for a disaster and a blow-out. This team can't go full-court press defense, and it can't run the floor.
The Eagles have been improving as of late, and they're starting to get better within the current system. While there's a gap between them and opponents, we're seeing them hang tougher and tougher. Remember that they've essentially played all tournament-bound and bubble teams to this point while trying to make up a huge gap. With games against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech instead of North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia, the best thing to do is to stay the course and see this through to completion.