This season I’ll be breaking down the X’s and O’s of Virginia basketball along with the X’s and O’s of opposing ACC squads. The installments will be available for EDGE Subscribers going forward but for the opening of ACC play here is a sneak peak at a look at some of UNC’s playbook.
Heading into Saturday’s game with UNC, Tony Bennett will be preparing to face offensive and defensive systems that are as well known as any in college basketball. The systems employed by Roy Williams are the same as those run by his mentor Dean Smith with some new twists and variations. Despite being such a well-known and studied system the Carolina attack is still as difficult to defend strategically as it ever has been.
I will focus on the Tarheel transition attack, their secondary break and their defensive sets below.
The UNC transition attack hasn’t undergone significant changes in a long time and its goals are simple: increase tempo and create easy scoring opportunities. The Heels get the ball up the floor as fast as they can and attempt to take advantage of number advantages or mismatches that are difficult to compensate for in a quick change situation.
Here are the basics of the Tar Heel transition look:
5 secures the rebound while 1 sprints ball-side to receive the pass. 4 immediately takes off down the center of the court while 2 and 3 get wide and look for a pass up the sideline.
1 takes the ball and, taking no more than one dribble, makes his first look to the wing running the ball-side sideline (3 in this example). If that pass isn’t there 1 takes another dribble toward the middle of the court, called running a “Z”, and looks for his wing who started his run on the weakside (2 in this example). 4 continues to run the floor and will get to the block on the ball-side once that is established. 5 takes off as the trailer after throwing the outlet to 1.
If the ball is thrown ahead to one of the wings (in this case it is thrown ahead to the ball-side wing – 3) then UNC looks to score quickly. 4 will immediately flash to the ball-side block looking for a quick entry. 3 needs to be aggressive if the ball is thrown to him so he’ll look to penetrate or hit 4 on a quick entry. If there is a numbers advantage but the defenses collapses ball-side then the skip pass to the wing is the next pass. Dean Smith’s teams were deadly shooting threes off of that skip pass in transition.
If neither of the wing passes are available 1 continues his “Z” run and dribbles toward 2 while 5 trails and aligns opposite 1 on the weak-side of the court. When the players have reached this position they are in a 4 around 1 look and are ready for their secondary break.
If either 2 or 3 does catch the pass ahead from 1 but the defense recovers then the ball is passed back to 1 as the players run to these spots.
UNC’s secondary break has had the fingerprints of Roy Williams on it since his time as a UNC assistant. This has been apparent as Williams’ secondary break in its main look mirrors the secondary break Dean Smith ran for years but the countless counters and variations set Williams’ attack apart. Breaking down UNC several years ago I came across 17 counters out of the secondary break that were used multiple times – the variations are sometimes sight reads, sometimes calls by the players on the court and sometimes come from the bench. When a UNC team is humming this is as challenging a set to stop as any in college basketball. Here is the basic secondary break that you’ll see many times on Saturday:
This is the alignment UNC is in when they go into their secondary break. While it’s important to look to get the ball into the post quickly the real assignment here is to reverse the ball to the guard starting the play on the weak-side as quickly as possible. This can happen in any number of ways but the important thing is that the ball gets to that spot. To demonstrate we’ll assume that 1 reverses the ball to 5 who makes the pass to 3. In the following frames I’ll show what happens as those passes are made.
1 reverses the ball to 5 and then cuts to the wing. 2 cuts across the court to get in position to set a back-screen for 5 after he passes to 3. 4 flashes through the lane moving toward the ball-side block.
5 passes to 3. 4 flashes and looks for an immediate entry. 2 gets in position to set the back-screen for 5 and 1 sets up on the wing.
After the ball is passed to 3 he looks to enter the ball to 4, then looks for the lob to 5 coming off of the back-screen from 2. 2 screens and then comes up looking for the ball – if a shot isn’t available then UNC is in a 3 around 2 alignment and is in position to go into their motion offense.
If the secondary break doesn’t produce a shot then the ball is still in position to transition immediately into the offense.
Defense is yet another area in which Roy Williams shows the influence that Dean Smith has had upon him. The sets laid out below were all popularized by Dean Smith and he is attributed with many of the developments of the run and jump/scramble system (the 30 and 40 sets below). Roy Williams plays a more aggressive base defense but isn’t as quick to mix his defenses as Smith was. UNC has turned their defense around significantly from last season and as the team continues to run their “20″ defense successfully Williams has become more willing to throw in pressure calls.
The sets below all have specific variations within their base defense relating to players trapping, side of court, amount of pressure and so on – these are the basic half-court versions:
UNC’s “20″ defense is their standard man to man defense. UNC distinguishes themselves from many other teams with how aggressively the play passing lanes and how hard they work to avoid allowing teams to reverse the ball.
This level of aggression allows UNC to force tempo and turnovers but any breakdown leaves a numbers advantage for the offense attacking the basket.
After a pass to the wing UNC will rotate to try to prevent any kind of ball reversal. When the offensive team screens to bring someone toward the ball UNC is very willing to switch to prevent the catch off of the screen.
The best way to open up the perimeter is to go inside-out, either by using your bigs as passers or by taking advantage of individual matchups in which players can breakdown their defender off the dribble.
UNC’s “30″ defense is their “run and jump” set that tries to get a trap out of a man-to-man look. In their 30 sets they will try to influence the ball away from the middle of the court.
As the ball is dribbled toward another defender and there is an established ball-side the defender off the ball will step up and cut off the player with the ball (in this case defender 2 steps up to defend 1). When UNC traps this, 2 needs to get his hands high to discourage the pass over the top to his man, the rest of the defenders will shift into denial positions where they are able to steal a forced pass out of the trap or recover if a pass is thrown over it.
The other thing UNC will do, and the original option when Dean Smith started running the 30 defense, is for the on-ball defender (1 here) to influence his man to a fellow defender and then right as his teammate steps up to defend the man with his ball 1 will cut over to try to steal the pass to 2 when the player with the ball assumes they are being double-teamed. If you are a football fan this is the basketball version of running a stunt.
In UNC’s “40″ set, which is usually just referred to as the scramble by most teams running it, the ball is trapped after a pass to a particular side of the court as opposed to a dribble. The player defending the passer follows the pass to execute the trap while the players behind him rotate hard to the ball side to deny possible passes out of the double team.