Coach: Pacing Key in Louisville-Kentucky
Setting the Pace: Kentucky vs. Louisville
Gearing up for one of the more anticipated Final Four matchups of the last decade, expect to hear a lot about “pace” being a huge factor. Specifically, the team that is able to set and control tempo (that is, the number of possessions) will have an upper hand. The classic maxim that a better, more talented team wants more possessions (a quicker pace) will be in play and since Kentucky is more talented than just about any team in the country, it holds true they will want more possessions against Louisville as well.
However, Louisville will not simply roll over and allow Kentucky to create more and more possessions. Their goal will be to use their variety of pressure packages and some specific techniques to keep the Wildcats from getting out on the break too often. Their goal, in the end, is to keep the game close and give themselves an opportunity to steal it in the last few minutes.
Traditionally, Rick Pitino-coached teams look to speed opponents up via full-court pressure. They attempt to force teams out of comfort zones and into less than ideal operational areas, turn their opponent over while simultaneously creating fatigue that becomes cumulative over the course of a game. Eventually, whether it be because of the immediate pressure or because of the cumulative effect, the opponent cracks… and this would result in Louisville going on a run.
However, this Louisville team uses pressure a little differently. They look for opportunities to jam rebounders and soft-deny outlets, then spend a lot of time turning ball-handlers in the backcourt. They switch defensive looks often, and play a lot of zone with a variety of match-up looks. This combo approach on defense works to effectively slow opponents down instead of speeding them up.
Louisville still looks to create turnovers, but they don’t really gamble for turnovers. Instead, they use length and positioning to make the offense think, which is a slower process than mere read and react. If Louisville jumped out into relentless pressure (berserker-style), Kentucky could simply attack and let the chips fall. But this mixing of defenses makes it essentially impossible to simply attack.
That doesn’t mean Kentucky won’t be prepared for Louisville’s 31 flavors of defense approach. Some specific things to look for early from Kentucky:
- Expect Kentucky’s defensive rebounders to rip the board and push it themselves or utilize an escape dribble to create a passing angle. Louisville will be jamming rebounders to prevent quick outlet passes, so Kentucky will either forgo the outlet or go to an automatic escape dribble to facilitate it.
- Look for Kentucky to throw long, court-length passes early. This approach can prevent Louisville from so readily jumping into their variety of pressures when they feel their basket is under siege. Even if this results in a Kentucky turnover or a bad shot early, the idea is to plant a seed for later.
- Kentucky will send a lot of players to the offensive glass on every shot. They must do everything they can to create multiple scoring chances on every possession, since Louisville may have some success limiting the total number of possessions.
In the end, it is much easier for Louisville to slow the pace down than it is for Kentucky to rev the pace up. This has the classic feel of a “tale of two halves” game, where one team dominates play (and maybe the scoreboard) in the first half, but the other team switches things around in the second half. Which will be which and whether the second half winner can do enough to come away victorious is anyone’s guess. However, expect pace to be the deciding overall factor in the way the game is played—and won.
Jared Sullinger = David West + Udonis Haslem
Some guys are just winners through and through. Jared Sullinger appears to be a guy cast in that mold—he plays super hard, rebounds well both in and out of area, is willing and able to lead a team in scoring and seems content when he plays the role of distraction (giving his teammates a chance to shine).
My mentor, Coach David Thorpe, had the chance to work with a young Udonis Haslem at the point where he transitioned from wideload college scorer to slimmed and fit long-term NBA role guy. So many of the things he talked about with Udonis seem present in Sullinger’s game, which is why it’s not a stretch to think their career arcs may be similar.
Sullinger’s ability as a go-to scorer may be muted somewhat in the NBA, but he will still have more opportunities than Haslem either way. This is where the other part of his game comes through, and where we see the David West comparison come to life. Think of West from a few years ago: A smooth catch-and-attack game out of pick-and-pop action, good side-to-side movement and fair space valuation around the lane.
If Sullinger can get into the right place to let his inner David West shine, the lunchpail winner in him (Udonis Haslem) will certainly come along for the ride. Sullinger seems the prime kind of guy to have a long, productive career; maybe not a ten-time All-Star, but a starting power forward for a team that can contend for a championship over the long-term seems about right.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure to drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. ET for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding and serves as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), a consensus top 15 team in the nation this season. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.