Solving Basketball LIVE, BLOBs, & Dick Bennett (HV Weekly: 5/8/2020)

Dick Bennett: not as committed to the Pack Line as you might think.

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

Solving Basketball LIVE

We are 34 episodes into the Solving Basketball podcast, featuring talented guests ranging from all across the basketball spectrum.

After episodes, we often get messages from listeners wishing for even more information from the guest — or a specific subject we didn’t hit on. In light of that, we are bringing back Solving Basketball guests of the past — this time in a LIVE format!

This Tuesday (May 12th) at 2:00pm ET, Neil Johnson will join us for our first Solving Basketball LIVE on the use of analytics in the recruiting and player evaluation processes.

Link: Register now for Tuesday’s Solving Basketball LIVE

Neil is a Sports Analytics Developer at ESPN with experience using EYBL and other AAU stats to predict college performance. In his first Solving Basketball appearance, we discussed how analytics can be applied to the different levels of college basketball recruiting.

On Tuesday, we will continue that discussion and then open up the floor for audience questions and participation. If you are a coach interested in actionable advice for your program’s recruiting strategy, or a fan just interested in a typical Solving Basketball-style conversation, please join us on Tuesday!


On Twitter this week, you may have noticed the focus on baseline out of bounds plays, as we featured some of the most common play designs used around the country:

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about these out of bounds scenarios here. Last September, we took a statistical dive into the topic in The One About BLOBs (HV Weekly 9/15/19).

We also have a 32-minute voiceover video available for purchase that walks the audience step-by-step through the chess match between coaches from both the offensive and defensive perspectives.

But we have been saving the best stuff for Hoop Vision PLUS subscribers. Our three favorite BLOB play designs can be found at the link below — exclusively for HV+ members.

Link: Favorite BLOB Plays from 2019-20 (HV+ only)

Support HV+ through the offseason and gain access to all upcoming HV+ Members-Only live events, along with our back catalog of X’s and O’s breakdowns, statistical features, and more.

Dick Bennett Pack Line NABC Webinar

Sharing is at an all-time high in the coaching world.

Since the shutdown of live play and in-person events, conventions and clinics have been replaced with Zoom calls and webinars, as coaches offer their philosophies on different aspects of the sport.

The thing about basketball — and the part that makes these clinic settings limiting — is that it’s a sport of trade-offs. A coach’s philosophy or scheme comes with a set of positives and negatives; clinics tend to only focus on the positives, creating a dialogue that isn’t particularly intellectually stimulating.

The real knowledge, however, lies in the discussion of the associated trade-offs.

But then I saw that Dick Bennett — former head coach of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Washington State — would be speaking on the Pack Line defense, and that piqued my interest. The now retired coach “created” (or at the very least popularized) the defense, which is now most notably carried on by his son Tony at Virginia.

Link: Pack Line NABC Webinar by Dick Bennett

To my surprise, Bennett spent his hour addressing the weaknesses of the scheme, just as much as he shared the positives. At the 20-minute mark, Bennett even acted as a critic of the Pack Line, as he put himself in the position of a skeptic and listed the weaknesses of the scheme.


Pack Line negatives, according to Dick Bennett:
  • It’s much easier for teams to run offense side-to-side

  • It doesn’t force turnovers

  • It’s vulnerable to the three-point shot because of initial positioning

  • Players say the long and disciplined defensive possessions can lead to fatigue on the offensive end

  • It’s harder to come back from large deficits

  • It’s “boring” (his words)

The result of this type of internal debate was a highly informative webinar presented by a coach who is not nearly as devoted to the Pack Line philosophy as one might assume.

Dick Bennett: A pressure/no-middle coach?

When talking about his coaching background, Bennett explained that his teams were actually pressure/no-middle — in many ways the opposite of the Pack Line — for the first half of his coaching career.

It wasn’t until his fifth year at Green Bay that Bennett switched to the Pack Line — or what he also refers to as “containment.”

Dick Bennett on switching from pressure defense to containment defense:

“That pressure defense was great because it forced the offense to make plays — or not make plays. And it was about halfway through my time at UW Green Bay that I realized that not only could talented DI players make plays, but it also forced a tempo that our opponents were much more comfortable with than we were.

And on top of that I discovered that we didn’t rebound the ball nearly as well because of the need to rotate, particularly towards the baseline. Because we were pushing the ball outside towards the baseline.”

Throughout the talk, Bennett made it clear that he used the Pack Line with rebuilding teams — implying that it was a particularly good defense to maximize lesser talented players.

Believe it or not, Bennett actually said that he has consistently suggested to his son Tony that he should consider switching his Virginia team to pressure defense.

Dick Bennett on pressure defense:

“And I loved it. And I still love it. And I tell my son — why don’t you go to that? Why don’t you take a look at that? And he smiles and just keeps doing what he’s doing.”

“Every year, if my son were sitting here, I try to talk him into going back to that [pressure no-middle]. And he looks at me like I’m a little crazy, because he’s been 10 times more successful than I ever was.”

While Bennett didn’t share his exact reason for the suggestion to his son, the most logical explanation — based off the rest of the webinar — is that Virginia is no longer rebuilding. The Hoos have talented and athletic players capable of getting into passing lanes and disrupting offenses.

Granted, Virginia finished the season number one in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. It’s hard to criticize the defensive results, but for a team that struggled so much offensively this season, a more aggressive style of defense theoretically could have helped the other side of the ball. Still, it’s difficult to question what Tony Bennett does defensively.

Three-point defense in the Pack Line

Bennett also addressed the on-ball/off-ball spectrum that was the topic of our newsletter last week.

He used a clipboard to show where players should be located when guarding off the ball in the Pack Line.

Aside from the player guarding the ball, the other four defenders are instructed to be inside that hand-drawn arc. The goal being to contain all drives to the basket, or even the thought of a drive.

However, Bennett acknowledged the changes in today’s game and the challenges that brings for a Pack Line defense.

Dick Bennett on the toughest part for a Pack Line defense:

“The toughest part, I believe, in today's game of playing [pack or containment]… it’s so difficult closing out on the ball — getting to the shooter.

If you asked me what has improved today over any time in the past it’s they all shoot it better. It's just clear — they shoot the three, and offenses have gone so that they can shoot the three. There's more four-guard arrangements, perimeter players who spread the court.”

But Bennett was clear that while increased spacing has made it harder to close-out to shooters, it can still be done. Players must be taught to anticipate the offense (“like a linebacker”) on close-outs. It’s certainly something we have seen Virginia do at a high level.

Another specific piece of advice Bennett gave for defending shooters was to be in help position early. He talked about how if a player is late getting into the pack, it’s harder to recover (“you can’t go in two directions and cover these shooters”). A player being in help position early ensures that he can then close-out in one direction.

System coaching

“Whatever you do, you have to do all the time. I was always a system coach. Scouting didn’t mean as much to me. As it does to some. As it does to my son even.”

I went into Bennett’s talk expecting him to have a firm commitment to the principles of the the Pack Line. But instead, Bennett’s message was different.

Sure, he likes the Pack Line — but that’s not the important part of his system. Bennett believes in “simplicity and repetition”, regardless of the specific scheme. His teams were going to guard you the same way every single time — trusting that their repetitive approach can adequately stifle any opponent’s repetitive approach.

— — —

Other fun quotes from Bennett:

“Thank you for reminding me how boring my approach can be.” (24:50)

“When I watch one of Tony’s games after on the DVR. I will always comment… Don’t call it pack anymore, because you’re not packing, you guys are spread.” (32:30)

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