The Ball is Tipped (HV Weekly: 11/27/20)
Virginia is using a D3 school's offense. Kansas is playing 5 guards. Wait, what??
We are BACK.
After a memorable first couple days of college hoops, we’ve got a lot to cover, so we’ll avoid the small talk in the intro section here.
But if this is your first time with us for the HV Weekly: welcome! Now that we’re into the season, these will typically be sent out on Friday mornings. But with so much Thursday and Friday action this week, this edition was pushed to Friday evening.
As a reminder, the “Starting Five” feature will return on Mondays this season, where we take a look at five intriguing topics, sets, matchups — or whatever else! — from the past weekend of action.
Starting Five — and much more additional coverage — is only available to Hoop Vision PLUS subscribers. Subscribe below to support Hoop Vision and get the full HV+ experience:
It feels great to be back.
Let’s get into it!
Gonzaga handles Kansas
Gonzaga came into this season facing lofty expectations, and did nothing to dispel those expectations in their first 48 hours of their season. The Zags scored 1.25 points per possession against Kansas and then followed that up with 1.19 against Auburn.
We all have a tendency — myself included — to jump to premature conclusions early in the season, but Gonzaga’s offensive dominance was made even more impressive when you realize they did not benefit from any “fluky” jump shooting.
In fact, Gonzaga made just 12 threes in their first two games combined — shooting 31% from behind the line. Meanwhile, they shot over 70% from two.
From a stylistic perspective, the big surprise in Gonzaga-Kansas was just how guard-heavy the game turned out. In fact, there was a stretch in the second half where the only “big” on the court for either team was 6-foot-8 Gonzaga forward Anton Watson.
For Kansas, the 5-out style seemed borne of necessity. David McCormack was struggling to stay in front of quicker players, and did not giving nearly enough on the offensive end to offset that defensive cost.
The result was a 5-out offense with Marcus Garrett simultaneously playing both the 1 (bringing the ball up the court) and the 5 (setting ball screens and rolling to the hoop).
Gonzaga also played small, but — unlike Kansas — it felt more like an “embarrassment of riches” situation, rather than a measure of last resort.
With Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard ruled eligible just this week for the Zags, they are stacked at the guard spot. Nembhard, Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, and Corey Kispert are just too good to be on the bench — and even Southern Illinois transfer Aaron Cook had some nice moments.
Fortunately for the Zags, Kispert’s offensive versatility allows them to play lineups of all different shapes and sizes.
In the clip below, Kispert is at the four. He receives a ball screen from Timme and blows right by McCormack after the switch.
Now here’s a very similar situation just a minute later. This time, instead of receiving the screen, Kispert reverses the ball and sets the screen, then rolls to the basket for an easy dunk.
Be on the lookout for a full-length video breakdown on Gonzaga-Kansas coming to our YouTube channel tomorrow.
San Francisco upsets Virginia
Did we mention not to jump to conclusions based on single game results?
On opening day, UMass Lowell upset San Francisco while Virginia cruised against Towson. Just two days later, it was San Francisco pulling off the upset, as the Dons beat Virginia by a point and registered the most notable upset of the young season.
For a large portion of the game, the Virginia pack line defense performed just as we have become accustomed; San Francisco struggled to generate open looks at the basket for most of the first half.
But down the stretch, USF had success with their Point series, as the Dons spread Virginia out and freed up their quick guards to create.
A brand new offense for Virginia
We probably don’t have to remind you of how poor Virginia was offensively last season. But with the addition of Sam Hauser, there was plenty of room for optimism entering the 2020-21 season.
In addition to the new personnel, Tony Bennett has experimented heavily with a new offensive scheme through the first two games.
The new scheme is modeled after an unlikely team: St. Joseph’s College — a D3 school in Maine.
During the 2018-19 season, St. Joseph’s — with the help of an outside player development coach Noah Laroche — revamped their offense to a 5-out free flowing read and react system. The season before, St. Joseph’s averaged 73 points per game. With the new offense, they averaged 93 points per game.
Kevin Thomas wrote an article covering the St. Joseph’s offensive transformation for the Press Harold. Coach Daniel broke down the X’s and O’s of the offense on his YouTube channel.
Laroche has worked directly with the Virginia staff to implement the system.
So what is it?
The offense has very similar principles to the popular “Read and React” system — with players passing, cutting, and filling to maintain spacing. On both passes and drives, the players off the ball are constantly on the move.
The good: ball movement and cutting
Through two games, Virginia has relied heavily on the mid post to initiate their offense. These post-ups start so far from the basket that they end up functioning more as isolations. Hauser, Kihei Clark, and Justin McKoy have been used as the three primary creators.
Here’s Clark in the mid post. Watch the pass-and-cut philosophy.
On the entry pass, #4 McKoy cuts through to the weak side corner and #25 Murphy cuts through to the weak side dunker spot. Then when Clark makes his move towards the middle, that triggers more cutting. Murphy cuts underneath the basket while McKoy fills in right behind.
That cut underneath the basket is a staple of the offense.
In the system, that cut-and-fill action occurs on nearly every pass or drive. Here instead of initiating out of the mid post, Clark initiates at the top the key. Watch the movement.
Just like before, the dunker spot (#2 Beekman) cuts underneath the hoop once Clark puts the ball on the floor. Beekman makes a great pass to Murphy (who is filling up to the top of the key).
Here’s maybe the best offensive possession for Virginia using the read and react.
Clark’s ball reversal to Hauser triggers to cuts into the paint. Neither cutter is directly open, but the movement collapses the defenses and generates an open three for Murphy.
That’s the potential power of off-ball motion creating a domino effect that puts the defense a step behind. However, a lot of Virginia’s off-ball motion felt purposeless against San Francisco…
It’s too early to really have a strong opinion either way on the new-look Virginia offense, but there were some issues against San Francisco. Some thoughts on what needs to improve for the Hoos in Bubbleville and beyond.
1] Inefficient shots in the mid post
Virginia wants to cut and play off of each other when the ball is in the mid post. That’s a big reason why they are are putting their best passer — Kihei Clark — in that spot. The problem is what happens after the cutting stalls out.
If I’m gameplanning against Virginia, I’m perfectly content with allowing Clark and Justin McKoy to go one-on-one in that area of the court.
Sam Hauser is their best scorer in that area, but he was taking some pretty tough contested twos down the stretch against San Francisco. It’s a difficult place to be efficient out of if the cuts aren’t opening up looks for off-ball players.
2] Jay Huff?
Jay Huff’s ability to both shoot and attack close-outs enables Virginia to play 5-out in the first place, but I can’t help but think the read and react is wasting a large portion of Huff’s unique skill set.
Huff is one of the best ball screen rollers in the country. The read and react is mostly positionless — with all five players being treated relatively equally. Even though Huff can play within the context of read and react, I’m not sure he should.
3] Free throws and offensive rebounds
Tony Bennett offenses are usually below average in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate. With the read and react style, they’ve been underwhelming in both categories through two games. It’s something to keep an eye on.
Everyone is using 5-out spacing on offense these days, but Fred Hoiberg and Nebraska are still taking it to an extreme
Xavier is tracking defensive “kills” on their baseline scoreboard again this season
Potential #1 pick Cade Cunningham doing the “little things”
Adam Spinella compiled a video of different after timeout plays from the first two days of the season