Luka Garza & Iowa's Defense (HV Weekly: 3/27/2020)

Breaking down the defensive film from Luka Garza's All-American season

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

As the pandemic situation intensifies throughout the United States, we are wishing you health and safety, and urge you to reach out to friends and family to check in and say hello, including those throughout the college hoops ecosystem.

Obviously there are much bigger issues and concerns in the world right now, but our goal is to continue using this newsletter — and Hoop Vision content as a whole — to provide some escape and enjoyment amidst the chaos.

That’s the end of the heavy stuff. Promise. Onto basketball…

Today, we bring back the Hoop Vision Weekly, touching on one half of the debate taking the college basketball world by storm — Obi vs. Luka — as pundits and fans alike have found a topic to vigorously debate (shocker!) in absence of live sports.


Luka Garza and Iowa’s Defense

This week’s Obi Toppin versus Luka Garza Twitter debate has been excruciatingly annoying. Splitting hairs between between superstar basketball player — a favorite topic of the internet — is rarely a useful activity.

But here at Hoop Vision, we never really did give Luke Garza the attention or analysis that his season-long performance deserved; today, we’ll attempt to rectify that mistake.

The Stats

By the numbers, Garza had a monster season. The counting stats immediately stand out, as Garza averaged 23.9 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game, on 59% from two and 36% from three — in the most competitive conference in college basketball this season.

But it’s not only traditional stats that suggest Garza’s dominance. He finished tops in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s POY standings with a 117 offensive rating on a 31% usage rate.

Overall, both the traditional and tempo-free statistics agree: Garza was a truly elite offensive player this season. He led the nation in post-up scoring — averaging 9.9 post-up points per game on 57% shooting — and is in rarified air amongst recent dominant bigs.

Post-up leaderboard, last five seasons:
  1. Isaac Haas, 2018 Purdue — 10.5 post-up PPG // 59% FG%

  2. Albert Owens, 2017 Oral Roberts — 10.3 post-up PPG // 45% FG%

  3. Jock Landale, 2018 Saint Mary’s — 10.1 post-up PPG // 57% FG%

  4. Luka Garza, 2020 Iowa — 9.9 post-up PPG // 57% FG%

  5. Michael Buchanan, 2017 USC Upstate — 9.7 post-up PPG // 58% FG%

The defensive end is where things get murky. Evaluating individual defense — whether by statistics or film — has inherent snags. In the kPOY formula, Garza likely earned some credit for his shot blocking and defensive rebounding. After all, he was top 200 in the country in both block percentage and defensive rebounding percentage.

While Garza was personally solid in those two categories, it didn’t translate to defensive team success for Iowa.

Iowa rim protection:
  • Garza — 6.0% block% // 101st in NCAA, 10th in Big Ten

  • Iowa — 50.3% defensive 2P% // 214th in NCAA, 13th in Big Ten

Iowa defensive rebounding:
  • Garza — 21.1% def reb% // 184th in NCAA, 15th in Big Ten

  • Iowa — 70.5% def reb% // 253rd in NCAA, 12th in Big Ten

Garza himself provided solid rebounding and rim protection numbers, but Iowa struggled collectively in those areas — and on defense as a whole.

For a better understanding of Garza’s defensive role and skill set, we loaded up the film to explore:

  1. Post defense

  2. Ball screen coverage

  3. The effects of switching to zone

  4. Corner close-outs

[1] Post Battles

At 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, Garza is a bruiser in the paint. In a conference with the likes of Kofi Cockburn, Kaleb Wesson, and Daniel Oturu, post defense is as much about what happens before the post player catches the ball as what happens after.

In the clip below, Illinois is four-out-one-in around Cockburn. Garza battles against the 290 pounder and prevents a deep post catch.

These post battles are Garza’s best defensive skill, as it allows him to use his size and strength.

Contrast Garza with Iowa’s backup big Cordell Pemsl. In the clip below, Pemsl gets taken for a ride on Trevion Williams’ roll

[2] Ball Screen Defense

Strength is a key attribute for post defense, but ball screen defense requires a much different skill set. In Iowa’s man-to-man defense, Fran McCaffery used what we’ve called a “slow” hedge: two players on the ball to turn the ball handler into a passer.

Here’s good execution of the slow hedge, with Garza pushing the screen setter Matt Haarms up and keeping Eric Hunter in front.

However, Garza has relatively slow feet when defending in space. He “lumbers” around on the perimeter.

As a result, opponents had plenty of success when they forced Iowa to guard multiple actions in a row. In the clip below, Illinois did that with their stagger ball screen set. Garza goes from guarding an initial stagger screen right into guarding a ball screen.

On the stagger, Garza drops back into the paint — which leaves him behind in getting into his ball screen coverage.

(Note: If you’d like to see the best defensive examples of these sort of multiple-action plays, Virginia’s bigs defend them masterfully within Tony Bennett’s pack line system.)

For Garza, keeping Ayo Dosunmu in check isn’t an easy task regardless of context — but it’s even harder when he starts that task a step behind. With Iowa’s help defenders shrinking the floor to help on the roll, Dosunmu makes the skip pass to the corner.

Ball screen defense was a regular issue for Iowa. Help too much and they would give up skip-pass threes like the one above. If they help too little, Garza has added responsibility to contain quick guards while still getting back to the roller.

To avoid these situations altogether, Iowa played a good amount of zone defense…

[3] The Effects of Zone Defense

On the season, Iowa played zone defense on 42% of plays. Syracuse and Washington (ahem..the Jim Boeheim coaching tree) were the only two high-major teams to play a higher percentage of zone.

Iowa’s man and zone defenses performed about the same according to overall efficiency, but they had big changes on opponents’ style of play.

When playing man-to-man, Iowa opponents ended 25% of plays with a ball screen. When playing zone, that number decreased to 18%.

As would be expected, zone defense reduces the volume of play types that rely on individual creation — ball screens, isolations, and post-ups. In exchange, zone defense increases the volume of play types created by the pass — spot-ups and cuts. (Note: high post flashes are included in cuts.)

By reducing the volume of ball screens, the zone (theoretically) helped Iowa hide their lack of foot speed. However, it brought a different potential issue to the forefront: The corner close-out.

[4] Corner Close-Out

Iowa’s zone had elements of both a 2-3 and 3-2, but functioned more closely to a 3-2 for Garza. Unlike in a 2-3, the center was regularly required to cover the corner in certain situations.

For Garza, that meant going directly from battling in the post to closing out on a corner shooter.

This is the area of the zone where Garza’s foot speed was especially tested. While it never looked pretty for the 6-foot-11 center, he had some surprisingly solid moments.

Here against Indiana he forced two turnovers on corner close-outs.

Even when Garza was successful on a close-out, drawing the opponent’s best rim protector away from the basket often serves as a win for the offense.

On the play below, Iowa is small with Connor McCaffery at the four. When Garza closes out to the corner, McCaffery gets ducked in by Cockburn.

That play is a good summary of the 2020 Iowa defense. The opposing offense — thanks to a combination of speed and awareness — always seemed to be a step ahead of the Iowa defense.


Without an NCAA Tournament this season, our flagship e-book product — which provides a scouting report and video breakdown on each team in the field — is now available to Hoop Vision Plus subscribers.

We are distributing team breakdowns on HV+ over the next few weeks; we’ve already released 20 teams and have more on the way. This is the ultimate look back at the season; it can serve as inspiration for coaches looking to add to their playbook, or for aspiring coaches to learn about the systems driving the best programs in college basketball.

Please consider supporting Hoop Vision during this unprecedented time by subscribing to HV+ to receive in-depth, nuanced analysis of college basketball.

Trends: The “Wheel” Action

We’ve written before about how college basketball is a “copycat” world, in that when one team begins seeing some level of success with a scheme or action, it rapidly spreads — albeit often with slight tweaks.

This week: a new short voiceover video (2m20s), going into some detail on one of the most common looks from teams around the country this year.

Some more X’s and O’s from the week:

If you’re starving for more X’s and O’s from classic NCAA tournament games, Gibson Pyper — a great friend of Hoop Vision — is consistently tweeting out some great sets from tournament action over the past two decades.

Now that the offseason is officially here, there’s no better time to check out the digital guides on our online store. Grab a t-shirt while you’re there!

As a reminder: HV+ subscribers get DEEP discounts on digital guides from the online store.

Got Feedback?

We love hearing from you; whether it’s suggestions, concerns or no-strings-attached compliments.

If you have anything you’d like to share, feel free to reply to this email, click/tap through to comment on the post, or reach out to us on Twitter, @hoopvision68 or @Edgar_Walker.

That’s it for this week!

Were you forwarded this email by a friend, colleague or coach? If you enjoyed it and would like to receive original research, insider access, and strategic analysis of college basketball on a regular basis, please tap/click the button below to either share this post, or the one above to subscribe to Hoop Vision Weekly and/or Hoop Vision Plus.