The Fast Getting Furious (HV Weekly: 12/3/21)
The teams that are playing faster this season... and why that's not necessarily translating to higher efficiency.
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This week, we covered:
Duke’s aggressive defense in the win over Gonzaga
Belmont 5-out variations
BYU’s changes in four factors
Baylor’s corner cuts
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In today’s newsletter:
The 10 teams with the biggest jumps in offensive pace so far this season
Louisville’s changes in offensive philosophy
Why Louisville is still off to a slow start offensively despite the changes
The teams actually playing faster
With the calendar turning to December, we have started to reach a large enough sample size to evaluate changes in style of play.
As a Hoop Vision subscriber, you KNOW that every coach wants their program to “play faster.”
That begs the question: which coaches have executed on that promise during the first month of the season?
The table below shows the 10 teams with the biggest jumps in offensive pace — measured by average possession length — relative to last season.
Marquette and Charleston have made the biggest jumps in pace, as both teams have played over four seconds faster per possession. Both of those teams also have new head coaches this season, leading to a major change in style.
Overall, four out of the 10 teams on the list — Charleston, Marquette, New Mexico, and Arizona — made head coaching changes prior to the start of the season.
Also of note, the increase in pace hasn’t necessarily led to offensive success. Of the 10 teams listed above, six of them have seen a decrease in adjusted offensive efficiency despite playing faster.
For the rest of the newsletter, we are going to focus on one of those teams that struggled with efficiency while playing a more uptempo brand of basketball:
The Louisville Cardinals.
Pace and space principles
In his first three seasons at Louisville, Chris Mack’s teams finished 183rd, 169th, and 264th nationally in offensive pace. The Cardinals generally played a more cerebral style of play with a large playbook full of sets and counters.
This season, Ross McMains — a former NBA, G-League, and international coach in New Zealand and Australia — was brought in to shake up the offense. More specifically, McMains was brought in to help implement more pace and space.
The early numbers indicate that McMains is succeeding in that mission; the Cardinals currently rank 27th nationally in offensive pace.
And a look at the film shows that the spacing has also been changed. Perhaps the most noticeable attribute of Louisville’s offense this season is the emphasis on placing players in the deep corners.
Early in possessions, Louisville has emphasized running to the deep corners — often using a 5-out approach in transition.
Still, as the Cardinals have clearly taken steps to play with increased pace and more spacing, the results of the new style have been underwhelming.
According to Hoop-Math, Louisville’s transition shooting — (defined as attempts that occur within the first 10 seconds of possessions that start with a steal, a defensive rebound, or a made basket by the opponent) — has actually been less efficient than their shooting in a halfcourt setting. The Cardinals have posted an eFG% of 48.1% in transition and 48.6% in the halfcourt.
The main reason for the transition struggles has been the three-point shot. Exactly 50% of Louisville’s shots taken within the first 10 seconds of a possession have been from behind the arc. On those early deep attempts, they have shot just 31%.
Spacing can only do so much
In Louisville’s halfcourt offense, spacing has also been a point of emphasis this year.
The Cardinals rely heavily on spread ball screens — again occupying the deep corners just like in transition.
In theory, optimizing spacing and setting a ball screen is tough for a defense to guard. If a defender helps too much on the roll, the corner is open. If they stay home on the corner, they risk giving up a dunk off of the roll.
But in practice, spacing is only as effective as the ability of the players on the court to command defensive attention.
That starts with the ability to shoot. A player that can’t shoot — no matter how well that player is spaced — doesn’t force the defense to hard close-out to the ball.
Beyond just shooting, the ability to attack that close-out is also an important determinant of defensive attention.
That was an area where Louisville really struggled against Michigan State. The Spartans were aggressive when defending against spread ball screens, but Louisville’s off-ball players were unable to generate or attack hard close-outs.
See an example below:
Michigan State hedges the ball screen, but Louisville is unable to generate an advantage. The three MSU defenders not in the ball screen don’t get sucked in on the roll, enabling an easy close-out on the pass.
The stalled ball screen leads to what is essentially just an iso for #11 Mason Faulkner. Where he gets his pocket picked by #2 Tyson Walker.
Below is another example of Louisville’s struggles to create an advantage.
On this possession, Michigan State doesn’t extend as far out on the hedge — staying connected to the screen setter. You see #44 Gabe Brown going to tag the roll, but #10 Samuell Williamson struggles to attack the close-out. Another example of a Louisville turnover following a stalled out ball screen.
Finally, we have one last clip of #3 El Ellis attempting to attack a close-out immediately after a ball screen.
Ellis gets into the paint this time, but he’s unable to get a shot up with #30 Marcus Bingham stepping up to help.
In fairness to Louisville, Michigan State is one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Spartans currently rank second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In this case, we have both Louisville struggling to create advantages and Michigan State being well-equipped in neutralizing any advantages.
However, Louisville’s struggles have extended beyond just Michigan State. They have scored over one point per possession in just two out of seven games this season.
As the season unfolds for the Cardinals, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether the team can find a way to improve efficiency in their new pace-and-space model, or whether Chris Mack looks to make a change back to a slower, more deliberate style.
Links from around the internet
I made a Twitter voiceover video breaking down Purdue’s gameplan against Florida State’s up-the-line defense
Arkansas Pine Bluff head coach Solomon Bozeman made his team run sprints during a timeout against Iowa State
Rodger Sherman made the case for bringing the computer ratings back into the college football selection process
An interesting set from Tarleton State, especially for a stretch big