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Barnes Would Do Well to Watch Stephen Curry or Listen to Barkers

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And take a few notes on how to attack defenses that sell out to stop a shooter. Look, I know Curry is a much more dynamic scorer than Abrams, but the defensive principles opponents are using to slow down Curry are being used on AJ. Oh, and by the way, AJ's supporting cast is MUUUCCHHH better than Curry's. So what I'm proposing is a sort of counter to how teams set out to defend the Horns. It's my contention that teams defending Texas all predicate their defensive attack on keeping AJ away from his jumper. Everything else is a combination of making other players beat them, like defending the post and keeping DJ away from the rim. But it all starts with Abrams. So with this knowledge in hand, Davidson Curry vs. Duke as my muse, and the help of a handful of Barkers, I offer this post on how we can counter what defenses are trying to do against Texas.

In watching Duke guard Curry tonight, I found it strikingly similar to how Wisconsin, MSU, and Arkansas defended AJ and the Horns.

First, and foremost, Duke is denying all passes that put Curry in a shooting position. If Curry wants the ball, he has to get it 35 ft. from the bucket.

Second, in some instances, mostly on staggered screens or true double screens, Duke's bigs will hedge to the point of almost doubling Curry as a cutter. Helpside then comes over to guard the screener left by the over hedging big. You've seen Dex and Johson get deep pins and layups as a counter because it's usually their man helping the hedger. And that's fine, and something Texas has actually improved on from game to game. Countering with quick ball reversal to a quick post entry to attack a hedging baseline. Davidson doesn't really have a frontcourt, so they're generally screwed.

Third, Duke attacks the shooting hand in those few instances Curry does catch it in range. They don't delicately close out to Curry, they attack his right hand. You see it vs. Abrams to. If you watched a game with me, you'll probably hear, "shot fake, AJ, shot fake, holy shit that's a bad shot", about 8 times.

And finally, Duke's 4 other players are fully aware of Curry and what he's doing at all times. They have that luxury given the limited talent of Davidson's supporting cast. They can get away with all the above strategies, overhedging, aggressive close outs, doubles, and switches. But teams that play Texas shouldn't be able to take AJ out of the game with impugnity. We have players like James, Atchley, Johnson and Pitt that could all be number 1 options on a multitude of teams. And I guess that's the crux of the post. How does Texas attack teams that sellout to take away Texas' number 1 option?

I think Davidon's deployment of Curry is a good start, but I'll take the liberty of pulling some strategies that knowledgeable guys like The General, Kafka, Bob in Houston, Black Sholes, and others have discussed on the site. Hell, we're not near as smart as high school coaches, but we can aspire to be. (This a pre-emptive strike against those that will come on here and say I'm no Rick Barnes. It's also a veiled attempt at making Close to Jumping's head explode.) So, let's talk about AJ counter measures.

Counter Measure 1. Backcutting.
John Wooden won a bunch of national championships with backcutting as a staple of his offense. Pete Carrill put Princeton on the map and puckered Alonzo Morning's backside with backcutting. It's a novel concept, but its effectiveness in attacking overplays is undeniable. Pardon the pun. When was the last time we ran a backcut with AJ? I'm not talking about a backcut for a layup. I'm not greedy. My 401K has been in cash for a year now. I'm talking about a backcut off of pressure to set up other players by getting AJ into the lane and free of a defender. This cut conceivably sets up a two on one or three on two. Or along the same lines to relieve pressure how about backcutting AJ's screeners to take advantage of hedging defenders more concerned about chasing AJ off a jumper. I'd love to see Gary Johnson catching the ball moving towards the goal on a backcut after setting a screen for Abrams. And there's no law that says Dex can't dive to the goal every once in a while. We've done some quick dives with Dex and Johnson, but we don't do it enough. Watching Davidson tonight backcut Duke tonight got me thinking, why not us? Why not more?

Counter measure 2. Screen the box.
No, I'm not talking about HenryJames sex life, but I have to give credit to Kafka for this because one of his posts got me thinking about how teams are defending the Horns and more specifically AJ Abrams. The defensive deployment of the last 3 opponents resembles more of a box and 1 than it does a traditional ball-you-man principled M2M. Granted the other four defenders aren't playing a true box or diamond zone, but they're certainly not relying on helpside defense from AJ's man and this is where screen the box comes in. Now granted AJ's not the ideal screener in size and stature, but do you think his man helps off of him on a back screen knowing AJ's two feet away from an easy catch and shoot 3? If AJ's cross screening a big is the guard going to bump a cutting Dex risking getting caught in the trash leaving AJ alone for a corner J? The answer is no, and probably means a back cutter goes free or a crossing Big gets easy position. AJ will have to show some toughness, but his Dad was body guard, right? Screen the other defenders with AJ just like teams use the manned offensive player to screen the zone players vs. a box and 1. Again, credit to Kafka for the thought.

Counter Measure 3. Skip passing.
The General mentioned this in his outstanding House Shitting post and interestingly enough, Davidson has been using skip passing to exploit Duke's overplay on Curry. The ingredients are simple, the floor is naturally spread by the team overplaying or denying your star. You run your AJ or Curry to the opposite corner, one side of the floor to the other. You can use staggered baseline screens or a simple cut. The ball is moved off the dribble or pass to the strongside wing. The opposite wing then fills the point if the move is off the dribble. The weakside wing is then filled by a shooter or slasher (Atchley or James) coming from the paint area or opposite corner, and then the ball is then skipped from wing to wing.

So what's the advantage now that the balls on the other side of the floor? Well, you've got an overplayed (now weakside) corner (AJ), the ball on the strongside wing, a filled point with a shooting threat, a strongiside block posting up, a wing with the ball that's a shooting/slashing threat who now has help running him, a post man going across the lane with his defender on his back, and your best shooter still drawing attention in the weakside corner eating up help. Davidson skipped rather effectively tonight without anything close to the talent of Texas. Skip passing flips the floor and catches the opponent out of position especially if they're not playing solid M2M principles. And it's no coincidence that the skip pass is considered a major weapon against zone defenses. Cause we're not seeing traditional man, folks, we're seeing pseudo-junk defenses.

Counter measure 4. Run.
Pop in a tape of any Roy Williams' squad and you'll see them running to set up their offense and not necessarily to get easy Phi Slamma Jamma buckets. Williams' teams run because in his philosophy it's important for offenses to put teams in help situations as early as possible in any given possession. Black Sholes and Bob in Houston have mentioned it several times on this site as a tonic to cure our point guard ills. And I agree wholeheartedly. When it comes to getting AJ Abrams better looks and getting better looks for the team in general, I think running to get easy buckets in the primary and secondary breaks make sense. Texas has the size and athleticism to control the defensive glass which is where it all starts. And Texas doesn't need the traditional outlet to a greased lightning lead guard to start a break. A quick pass or sideline break style that gets us in an offense quickly, hopefully against mismatched defensive personnel, can bear fruit. Are there many 4's and 5's out there that will fan out to find Atchley at the arc on the break? How many of Arkansas' 3 freshman starters have the experience to hedge a staggered baseline screen that's run right out of a break? And it's not like we're not deep enough to run. Depth we have. Creators in a half court setting. Not so much.

I'm sure I'm missing some counters and feel free to add on, but as someone said, Augustin or Ford isn't going to walk through the door. We are who we are in 2009. 2010 will be different, and I'm working on an article on how we'll be different. I'll post it after these other issues are addressed. With Mason, Lucas, Hamilton, and Bradley roaming the perimeter we won't resemble the 2009 squad in the least. Why would we? We'll be able to put 3 or 4 players on the floor at the same time that can all handle, pass, and shoot. We can field maybe 1 that meets that description now. Hell, we could run the Dribble Drive Motion offense next year if we wanted to. But that's another post. We're only a week into 2009 afterall.

Thoughts?