Coach: NCAA Championship Week Observations
Hands up to contest: Key to Louisville’s success
Louisville has looked absolutely terrific on the defensive end throughout the Big East Tournament. One of the critical contributing factors has been a pretty simple technique that is often underused, even amongst some of the best defensive teams in the country. The players for Louisville rarely, if ever, have their hands down.
As a young coach at the high school level, I remember watching a Rick Pitino defensive teaching video where he talked about the value of his defenders keeping their hands up and active. I would implore my teams to do this, to the point where I probably made a fool of myself shouting “hands” throughout gameplay.
However, Louisville’s dominating defensive performance has reinforced my focus on the significance of taking up space. On the ball, Louisville defenders utilize a windmill technique, moving their hands up and down with each and every stride and slide, while staying low and explosive to convert deflections into steals and transition opportunities. Off the ball, the Cardinals not only move around on the flight of the ball, but they do so with hands up in passing lanes, preventing easy vision of teammates and forcing the offense to (a) make great individual plays and (b) face consistent, unrelenting pressure on every action.
By placing such a big emphasis on keeping hands up and active and a focus on creating as many deflections as possible, Louisville imposes its will on its opponents. It actually makes them look more athletic than they are, as their team goes through spurts where it appears they are everywhere. In the short term, it creates turnovers and a chaotic pace. In the longterm, this kind of pressure creates fatigue physically and mentally for opponents.
Put those short- and long-term goals together and you can see why doing something as simple as having hands up to contest every dribble, every catch, every pass, and every shot goes a long way to defensive success. “Hands!”
Quick Thought: The reason Anthony Davis is a lock to be a stud…
Beyond the eye-opening physical gifts of length, athleticism, agility, and explosiveness, and looking past the obvious talent and timing involved in the way he rebounds, blocks shots, runs the floor, finishes around the basket, and has now added making long-range jumpshots to his arsenal, there were a set of plays at the end of the Kentucky / Florida game which left me firmly convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Anthony Davis is a sure-fire lock to be amongst the elite in the NBA in the not-so-distant future.
In both situations, Davis received a pass out high between the circles. He took two long, loping dribbles toward the right elbow on one play, and toward the left elbow on the other. In both cases, a guard came off a screen low and then took the ball from Davis in hand-off action. The guard probed the ability to turn the corner, then flattened out higher, and Davis paused, then spun and sealed his man on the block in great position to receive a pass and go to work.
In neither case did he receive the ball. However, these segments cemented Davis’ status, at least in my mind, as the future #1 pick and sure-fire long-term NBA star. At his size, most players would be lucky to have their coach screen for them from block to block to get open in the post. However, John Calipari so trusts Davis with the ball that he allows Davis to initiate offense from 25’ feet away, choose the side he is going to attack, dribble with either hand, complete a pressured dribble-handoff, and then slide into post position immediately thereafter.
This is a VERY unconventional way to get the ball into the post, and in displaying Davis’ versatility and intelligence, Calipari also demonstrated why Davis is a lock for nearly inevitable NBA stardom.
Establishing, keeping, and utilizing post position: Mason Plumlee
Coming into this season, many questioned whether Mason Plumlee could be a productive player outside of transition opportunities, putbacks, and the occasional backdoor cut. However, this year, he has sown the ability to use his body effectively around the lane area, obviously valuing the space he is carving out and taking advantage of both his length and strength.
Plumlee posts up effectively in the block areas, with his back parallel to the baseline, arm-bar in the chest of his defender and outside hand outstretched. If defenders manage to fight around this position, Plumless does not engage in hand-to-hand combat, but rather uses his hips to manage space by sealing the defender on the side they have worked to deny. This puts the defender in an awkward position as Duke reverses the basketball, leaving Plumlee with open attack angles that often end in dunks (and fouls).
This type of post play is rarely noticed or celebrated because it is workman-like and, honestly, quite boring. However, it is undeniably effective and will translate into play at the next level rather easily. Because he is so fundamentally sound at establishing, keeping, and utilizing post position, the places where he is raw (creating his own shot in the post, dealing with resistance and double teams, etc.) will have time to mature and develop.
Plumlee’s foundation is strong enough that he will be able to add a wide plethora of skills to it and become more and more an NBA player as time goes on. The reality is that his teammates at Duke under-utilize his positioning skill, and how successful they are in tournament time may come down to the way they take advantage of Plumlee’s positioning.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 11AM Eastern 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 10 team in the nation this season. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.