Sunday, December 23, 2012


Sorry for the long break since my last blog post, but we've been at a tournament in Las Vegas all week and I just got back. I'm headed out for some family time in the morning, too, and we'll be back up and running at NCC on Dec 30, so I won't post again until then.  But here are our Vegas results...

74 FGAs
32 Threes
23% ORBs
30 TOs
+8 Shots
Goals met: ZERO

COMMENTS:  You can see how we struggled again to get ORBs.  But after the game we watched film and I think the kids are finally starting to understand that against good teams you have to WILL yourself to get to the boards. 
       Oshkosh was very sound defensively, but we didn't do ourselves any favors with our offensive spacing: instead of playing on the fades and curls, we were positioning ourselves at the wings and curls...Oh, but wait! We don't have a wing spot.  Maybe that's why we didn't have any room to break down the defense with penetration.  
       Oshkosh was also one of the first opponents who has tried to run a ball control game plan on us, using a Spread-Delay 2-1-2 set, and our defensive reactions were just too slow to keep them from holding the ball on us (thus the slow tempo and low FGAs).
       And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why you need to play a tough schedule in the pre-season.  They expose your weaknesses and force you to improve.  Some of our previous opponents were weaker, and we frankly got away with playing half-speed defensively.  A good team will burn you, but that's how you learn!  As I always told my teams at ONU, "The key to success is failure."

95 FGAs
52 Threes
33% ORBs (60% in the second half!)
33 TOs
+14 shots

COMMENTS:  Much better performance against a very athletic Goucher team.  They attacked the press exactly opposite of the way UW-Oshkosh did in yesterday's game:  got it in to their quick PG and split traps all day.  Maybe we learned a lesson... against Spread-Delay pass oriented press breakers, you have to get up in their grill and force them to dribble and make bad passes, but versus teams trying to beat your press with speed, you must play the trap by keeping a cushion and containing the ball-handler, without giving in to the temptation to reach for the ball, which just doesn't work against quick guards. 
In general, we felt really good about the win, and about our third 100 point game in the past four games.  Now we head home for the Christmas break and are looking forward to the beginning of the CCIW season starting on January 2nd!  But before taking a brief holiday blogging sabbatical, I wanted to quickly recap the fall semester by assessing where we I think are right now: 

Exactly where we should be.  One of the things that relaxes me as a coach is understanding that it's nonsense to tell yourself, "We ought to be better."  No, you are exactly as good as you have any right to expect, given your talent level, practice habits, and strength of schedule.  So don't waste any emotional energy thinking you should be better than you are.  As my older cousin Darrell told me on the golf course when I was 13, "Doug, you aren't good enough yet to be getting this upset about playing bad."  Point taken.

BUT, regardless of where you are at this point in the season, you should be getting better.  You should be seeing improvement, and you should be pretty close to the "light bulb" phase of the season, where almost overnight the players seem to just get it, taking a quantum leap forward in their execution, and in their confidence.  That's one thing you'll notice about System teams:  barring serious injuries, they almost always are a lot better in January and February than they were in November. 

You might respond by saying, "Isn't that true of all basketball teams?"  No, it isn't.  A lot of non-System teams actually get worse late in the season because of the physical and emotional toll of grinding practices and lack of PT from your bottom five, who tend to then create drama's that eat away at your practice work ethic and game success.  System teams, on the other hand, tend to be (for the most part) comparatively happy.  Happy players are more productive players, I think, because fun is a pretty good motivator. 

In addition, from a technical standpoint the other thing that makes System teams better in the second half of the season is that
  • their offense flows more smoothly because roles are being accepted and players aren't needing to think as much, and
  • their defense starts to anticipate better and players begins to intercept or deflect to those passes they were just missing a month earlier.

In other words, your team after Christmas break will be happier, fresher, and smarter.  Why shouldn't they win?

So, until December 30, Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Paranoia and Game Plans

You know from my previous comments that I love Football Coaches, but goodness gracious, they are one paranoid group of individuals. 

I always get a kick out of watching the head coach or his offensive coordinator hold up a 4-color, laminated game plan by which to cover their mouths as they radio in the next play to their quarterbacks.  No doubt in the devious world of pro and college football, they must go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves from the opposing team's Coach-in-charge-of-Lipreading.

Admittedly, I did very much enjoy working as team manager for my college's head football coach, Dewey King.  Dewey was a wonderful, gruff man... and as paranoid as the rest of them when it came to varsity contests on Saturday afternoon.  But he also called plays for the JV games on Monday evening, where he had a decidedly less suspicious nature (Nobody gets fired for losing JV games). 

Dewey would send in the play via messenger guard:  "Split Right Pro Slot Near, Tricky Red X Flash Z Whirligig 436 Whammo" (You know how FB coaches just love their play-calling terminology!)  If the play made 10 yards, Dewey forgot all about his Football Coaches Creedo to be sneaky, and just yelled out, for all the world to hear, "RUN IT AGAIN!"  And he would keep doing that until the opponent figured out how to stop the play.  But normally, those sacred game plans and play calls are double-top secret to Football Coaches. 

I, too, like creating a game plan, having made this a habit over the past 15 years. Here's my process:

First, I tear out a sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad, fold it in half, then again into thirds to make a trifold that will fit in my shirt or jacket pocket (no laminating required).  Next, I take out my pencil (one color only), and divide the front cover of the tri-fold into 4 quadrants.  In the upper left quadrant goes a list of our offensive attacks:   Zone offense, Man offense, Dead Ball plays, and our Delay Game.  In the top right quadrant I list the defenses:  On and Off presses (plus any press variations we are using for this game), and our blowout or lead-protect defense (usually a 2-3 zone). 

In the lower left quadrant go our Sideline and Underneath Out of Bounds plays, and any last shot special plays we might (or might not) have ready for that game.  For easy reference, I circle any of the OB plays that can be used versus a zone.  Finally, in the lower right quadrant I write the opposing team, their coach, the date, and the names of the three officials so I know who I'm yelling at during the game.

On the back of this tri-fold I draw a half-court diagram and place on it the number's of our opponent's starting five.  Next to their numbers, I write the names of the five players in our "Finishing Group."

I then open up one of the flaps and write on the inside of the plan any key things I want the team to focus on for this game.  Usually, like every game, I write
"REBOUND!!!" along with a brief list of what we expect the opponent to do (1-3-1 Zone, 3-up Press Break).

During the game, while I'm sitting there on the end of the bench watching the world go by, I'll occasionally pull out the plan, and jot down (again, on the inside flap) any ideas or problems I see with our play, things to be corrected at the next practice.  Usually, I list things like "REBOUND!!!"  or "PGs get to the rim!" or "We have no IDEA how to run OB 4!!!"  etc, etc.

The odd thing is that I almost never refer to my plan during the game. But if I didn't have it in my pocket, I'd feel unprepared to make those few decisions necessary during a typical System game.  I must confess that it has become something of a superstition with me to go through this planning process, like tying my right shoe first before every game... or was it my left????  Oh no, I'm doomed!

So, yes, just like my paranoid Football Coaching friends, I too have a mental problems, and I too have a Super-Secret Game Plan of Universal Enlightenment... but I still don't use it to hide my mouth from the lip readers.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Favorite Goal

NCC 110- Dominican 68
102 FGAs
45 Threes
46% ORBs
43 TOs
+40 Shots

Versus a struggling Dominican team, we nevertheless had a quality outing.  Earlier in the week when we defeated a weak MSOE squad, we didn't feel as good about the win, but at least we are scoring some points now, and the reason is...

Rebounding and turnovers.  Of course.  As I've mentioned many times, there's no more important stat in System basketball than offensive rebounding, and you know a good performance when you see it unfolding, even before looking at the stat sheet.  Players are flying to the boards on every shot, tenacious in their efforts to outhustle opponents to every loose ball. 

The 110 points--pulling the press with 10 minutes to go--and our 102 FGAs (both new team records) were the most significant indications of how much better we rebounded and played defense this game, as each ORB and forced TO results in one more shot for our side.  We also reduced our fouling, with DU shooting only 18 three throws, and that kept the game moving, which led to meltdown, which led to extra shots, etc.

It felt really good to get a quality win under our belts, and as I glanced back over the stat sheet just now, I can see why it felt so satisfying.  We met my very favorite non-Formula goal...

All seventeen players scored.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free Throw Press Drill

We've struggled in recent games running our "11" defense, which is nothing more than the back end of our press.  Once the ball crosses the half-court line we want our players to continue trappping and covering near passing lanes, especially lag passes (passes backwards or from guard to guard), and passes into the high post.

Why does this matter? Because unless your defense can get the ball trapped and move into open gaps almost instantly after each pass, opposing offenses will have time to see the next open player and pick your press apart.  We then find ourselves constantly 1 pass behind.

That's been our problem lately.  As we transition back into our backcourt (the opponent's frontcourt), we don't seem to grasp that we must move directly into "trap and lag" coverage and smother the passer's vision. I think this is due to our player's old conventional basketball habits... they still must be thinking, "Okay, we are out of the press now, and we need to set up our half-court defense, and--of course--protect the basket at all costs!"

Wrong.  Our 11 Press is merely a teaching tool, and perhaps they believe it must be "set up" first before trapping commences.  And they are so worried about giving up an occasional layup that they all five instinctivley run back inside the arc, rather than sprinting to a person (the ball handler, or the player(s) behind the ball-handler.)

These are hard habits to break, harder than I expected.  Maybe I was spoiled, because after my first System season at ONU we had enough veterans onboard that they could help train the newcomers on the proper approach to defense.  I guess I just didn't realize that with the entire team at NCC starting from scratch, it is going to take them more time to execute these radical (to them) defensive concepts.

But one thing that helped today was our "Free Throw Press Drill."  It works like this:  We put 15 seconds on the clock (or shot clock, in our case), and have the pressing team shoot a free throw.  After the make or miss, we jump into our "On" Press (we call it 55) or our Missed Shot Press as the opponent attempts to advance the ball into their offensive end.  The shot clock begins as soon as an opponent touches the ball inbounds (off a rebound, or the throw-in).

Once the ball is advanced into the frontcourt, however, the opponent moves into a "Box" set (2-1-2 alignment) and is not allowed to shoot.  Our pressing team, meanwhile, attempts to create a steal by flying to the trap while covering the lag and high post areas.  If they force a turnover, we break to the far end and score.  If the shot clock runs out before a steal, the offense wins the possession.

We motivate the drill by telling the defense, "Imagine you are down 2 points with 15 seconds to play, and every player on the opposing team is a 90% foul shooter."   It might even help to put the score up, but you get the idea.

I like this "Drill" because it is the most realistic way I can think of to teach players to run our 11 Press vs. a delay-spread offense, something no amount of conventional drilling will do.  Like all 5/5 System "Situation" drills, it teaches System habits by creating a game-like controlled scrimmage, and then teaching-correcting-polishing until the players demonstrate proficiency.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post several weeks ago, unlearning 10 years of conventional basketball takes time and there's no better way to accelerate the process than controlled scrimmaging of System situations.

With the start of conference play only 3 games away, we need all the "acceleration" we can get.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blowout Plans

NCC 102- Milwaukee School of Engineering 49
91 FGAs
44 Threes
56% ORB
31 TOs
+48 Shots

As you can from the results above, we finally broke the 100 point barrier.  I'm hoping this will be like the 4-minute mile... within months of Roger Bannister's record setting performance in 1954 several other runners eclipsed this supposedly impossible goal.  Now that we've done it once, the next time should be easier.

We were happy to meet three of our five goals, but the game was essentially over at halftime, as we owned a 66-28 lead against a short-handed and rebuilding MSOE squad (who was actually 17-10 last year but lost several top players off that team).

A few stats are remarkable, such as the 56% ORB (70% in the first half) and the +48 shots, which was due partly to the fact that MSOE shot so many more FTs  than us (25-11) they didn't have to shoot as many from the field, and partly to our great ORB performance.  NOTE: The formula goals are not going to be a an accurate reflection of System performance in a game like this, and in such cases we take Coach A's advice and use halftime stats to project perfomance, in which case we met all five goals.

In addition to new school records for points in a half and in a game, we also had the opportunity to implement our "Blowout Plan" for the first time this season:  pulling off the press with three minutes to go in the first half, falling back into a 2-3 zone, playing our freshmen more minutes, and lengthening shifts to 1-2 minutes for the rest of the game. 

One thing we did not change was our offensive attack, continuing to run and shoot threes throughout the game.  System coaches differ in their feelings about this when the game is out of hand.  Our approach has always been to pull off as noted above, but to maintain offensive tempo.  After spending the last two months trying to hard-wire pace into their nervous systems, we don't like telling players to not shoot open shots, and not run the floor hard.  In high school I might do it differently, but for better or worse, on offense we keep running: win, lose or draw.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Get a Gun

We don't have a Shooting Gun at NCC.

When I discovered this unfortunate fact late last summer, Michelle and I talked about the possibility of buying one, but we didn't have any budget money available.  So, we have done our best to develop three point shooting skills without The Gun, and for the most part we are pretty happy with our perimeter shooting.

But one thing I've learned as a result of going Gunless this season is that The Gun doesn't just improve 3FG percentage.  (I suppose it does, but can't even be certain of that because as much as we used it at ONU, we never shot much above 31% from the arc.)  No, the thing The Gun really improves is timing. 

At Lake Forest last week vs. a tight 3-2 zone, our shooters passed up lots of opportunities to shoot the three because they weren't comfortable taking the shot off the bunny hop. The result? Our transition game became stagnant because we kept having to run half-court offense to create a shot, since we didn't have time to shoot without utilizing the bunny hop.  So how does a player gain confidence in shooting off the hop?  The Gun.

At ONU, we had a tradition called "Three Point Week" in which players (using the Gun) took as many shots as possible from the arc over a five day span, on their own time.  We usually held Three Point Week near the end of preseason conditioning, right before we started regular practices, and after we had given them plenty of instruction on shooting off the hop.  We even created a spread sheet, and posted a printout of our totals at the end of each day.  This spreadsheet also calculated each player's total shots for the week, and the team's total shots for each day, and for the week.  In addition, we used the "sort" function to rank players by total cumulative shot attempts at the end of each day, providing some serious motivation.  Nobody wanted to be at the bottom of the list.

But as I said, I didn't see a huge payoff in terms of FG% from this tradition, despite the fact that some years we put up close to 30,000 shots in a week using the Gun.  What we did see was an obvious increase in our player's comfort level with shooting off the bunny hop.  As a result, we had little trouble getting off a three versus most defenses... our players didn't hesitate at all on the arc!

At NCC, we are still hesitating, and this may be due to their unfamiliarity with the technique as a first year System team, or it may be due to our lack of a Shooting Gun.  It's expensive, yes.  But I'm convinced that the ability to shoot a three off the hop, with good rhythm, is a core fundamental in the System, and essential for creating quick shots.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to be a Big Shot, you have to get a Gun.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Looked Good on Paper

I'm a huge Dick Bennett fan.  Does that surprise you?  It shouldn't, because he's the guy that produced the video, Pressure Defense: A System, back in the 1980's.  I loved that video, and his "Push" defense was the foundation of my philosophy in the pre-run'n'gun era.  Maybe I just like systems.

After I'd been using the defense somewhat successfully for several years, I finally got to see his UW-Green Bay team play on television.  Guess what?  He didn't use any of that stuff anymore.  Talk about being disillusioned!  Kind of like finding out St. Paul was really a Buddist.

What happened was that after taking the Green Bay job, he had gotten more conservative and developed what he called the "Pack" defense: tight sagging man to man.  His original Push defense had looked good on paper, had even been successful for him in a DIII program at UW-Stevens Point, but he didn't think he could make it work at the DI level.  So he came up with the Pack.

No, I'm not going to tell you that I've decided to abandon the System, take a DI job (I wish), and go back to conventional basketball.  What I am saying is that we all tinker with our approach.   John Wooden tinkered with his high post offense and press defense from 1932 until 1962 before he got it just the way he liked it... and the rest is history.  The moral of the story is that you can tinker with everything, as long as you have a consistent philosophy.  Think of it as scraping the barnacles off a speedboat.

Our current "tinkering" at NCC has to do with the Zone attack which I described several weeks ago, and even provided diagrams to those who requested them.  I still like the basic ideas of this cutting offense. It looked good on paper, but my gut is telling me that we need a new approach.

This Zone Offense has great player movement, but I recall another Wooden warning, "Don't confuse activity with accomplishment."  Well, right now we have so much player movement that we are in danger of becoming a "chess basketball" team (move a pawn...move your rook...capture a pawn... two hours later, checkmate.  What fun!)  And despite my best intentions when we put it in, the fact that this offense is a continuity means that our players are more intent on passing and cutting than they are on scoring.

As I've related before, Paul Westhead said that the problem with teaching System players a half-court offense is that, doggone it, they are going to try and run it.  And that's all we are doing against zones right now... we aren't attacking the defense, we're playing catch.

So today we introduced our old ONU zone attack (we call it "One-Guard"), which I basically stole from Coach A:  best decision-maker in the middle of the zone at the high post, three shooters spotted up on the arc, and a big kid in the short corner running the baseline behind the zone.  Move the ball quickly until you can punch it inside to your decision-maker, who must score or pass to an open shooter for a score.  That's it... no muss, no fuss.  Nothing to really learn except "Get the ball moving and shoot the sucker."

It looked pretty good... and Michelle liked the results.  So, if you happen to catch the webcast of our next game and we aren't using the Pass and Cut zone offense I described earlier, just remember...

It looked good on paper.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Little Dutch Boy

NCC 83- Lake Forest 88
88 FGAs
51 Threes (12-51
42% ORBs
27 TOs forced
+11 Shots

We plugged one hole in the dike vs. Lake Forest College on Friday night, and saw two more spring open. 

Leak #1:  Our offensive rebounding, which has been a point of emphasis this week, was significantly improved, but this game we shot poorly from the arc (12-51, 24%), handled the ball poorly, and fouled too much. 

Leak #2:  We shot great from the foul line (21-26, 80%), but couldn't force enough turnovers (27) and fouled too much (24 PFs).  I'm hopeful that at some point everything will come together for one game, but this is very typical of early season System teams.

Leak #3:  In addition to our poor shooting from the arc, I'm concerned about those failed layup putback opportunities.  After the game I calculated our two point FG% and saw that we shot only 30% inside the arc in the second half!  Given that we teach our players to shoot only three-pointers or layups (i.e. inside the paint) we have to conclude that those misses were at pretty close range. 

Why do we miss what ought to be relatively easy chances like that? (I'll bet we are the only team in America with this problem right now!)  I can think of only two possible explanations:
  1. Lack of skill.  Against stronger opponents who can intimidate with their size it can be tougher to finish around the basket.  With all due respect to a solid Lake Forest team, this was not the case last night.  We know how to make layups, so what other explanation might there be?
  2. Lack of concentration.  This is the more likely explanation.  I've seen a pattern with inexperienced System teams of poor inside shooting early each season, and this may be due to the faster pace, higher adreline levels, or just lack of focus and discipline. 
On a related point, I find it interesting that when we are working on offensive execution in practice, our passes often require an acrobatic move on the part of the receiver in order to catch the ball, which might be thrown overhead, at their feet, anywhere but to the shooting pocket. 

Do we not have the skill to pass accurately?  No, it's lack of focus, the inability to concentrate on fundamental execution while learning to play at a new pace. So, as I remind players, "It's not good enough to just pass the ball in the general direction of the receiver!"  In other words, it's not acceptable to settle for sloppy execution.  Little things like passing and finishing layups make a difference, and require concentration... at least until excellence becomes a habit.

How do you solve these problems?  I don't know, but my experience has been that if you keep plugging the holes in the dike, eventually you either run out of fingers or you stop the leaks and save the town. 

So, keep plugging!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Minimalist BLOBs

My good friend, Olivet softball coach Ritchie Richardson, is the most organized person I know.  Despite being from Tennessee, he eats fried chicken with a knife and fork.  He also has the neatest office, desk, and files I've ever seen.  There's a picture of him in the dictionary next to the word "Fastidious."

I asked him about this once, always looking for organizational tips, and he said that in his work and personal life he believes in what he calls "Minimalism."  In other words, he's ruthless in eliminating the "stuff" in his life.  He tosses out paper, keeps his email screen clear, and has a very simple system or routine for organizing everything.  In general, he believes keeping everything in his life lean and mean.  And this approach translates to his coaching as well; his softball teams are a model of efficiency on the field.

Is your version of the System minimalist, or "maximalist?"   What I mean is, how complicated is what you do?  My first year coaching the System we had one press, one man-to-man offense, one zone offense, and two quick-hitters.  I long for those days, and should I ever be a head coach again am resolved to streamline our approach.  I'm convinced that the less "stuff" you have in your system, the better you will execute what you have. 

For example, how many Baseline OB (BLOB) plays do you have, and how few could your really get by with?  I know, the complaint is, "I have to have several plays or else the other team will scout us and take us out of our game."  But they'll do that anyway, won't they.  At least your league opponents will.

Why not try Gary Smith's approach:  One BLOB with multiple (freelance) options, and one SLOB.  I'm sure you can figure out a way to run a play that gives players freedom to just get open and score, flowing into your basic set.  Then you don't have to waste practice time developing the timing of all that stuff and can focus on running the floor hard and offensive rebounding. 

To illustrate, Grinnell uses an interesting BLOB:  Everyone runs in a circle in the lane as the inbounder takes the ball from the official.  At some random point, everyone in the circle breaks to a spot, with the best player ususally catching the ball in a scoring area (the fade spot) where he shoots or drives and creates.

Never forget, the more stuff you have in your offense/defense, the longer your practices, and the less likely you'll make it home in time for Dancing with the Stars.   So... consider making this your mantra:  no muss, no fuss.  Minimalist Basketball.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Right Ones

My all-time favorite sports movie has to be Miracle.  The similarities between what Herb Brooks did with the 1980 Olympic hockey team and System basketball is uncanny, and it starts with personnel.

I remember the scene at the beginning of the film when Brooks is evaluating prospects, and his assistant coach, Craig Patrick, asks him why some of the best players aren't on Brooks final roster.

Brookes replies, "I ain't looking for the best players, Craig, I'm looking for the right ones."

After eight years coaching the System, I still think that one of the most helpful things I learned about player selection was something Berea's (now Glenville State's) Bunky Harkleroad told me.  "Coach, when we recruit, the first thing we look for are hard-nosed kids who are willing to fill a role. Everything else is gravy."

Of course, we'd like to have shooters.  Can you run the System without them?  Sure, if those poor shooters are also hard-nosed offensive rebounders.  Can you run the System without quickness?  Sure, if those slow kids are hard-nosed defenders who will play all-out all the time, sprint to traps, and learn to anticipate (as fast as they can be expected to do so, given their slowness).

Will you win with hard-nosed, non-athletes? Maybe.  Maybe not.  But they are a lot more fun to coach.  It does take some talent to succeed in this game, but it takes heart, too.  If your are really bad, maybe playing slow will keep the school board off your back. 

But--given some minimal level of talent-- if you are going to lose anyway, why not go down swinging?  You might do better than you think, even without the best kids... as long as you have the right ones.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Smarter Than a Lab Rat

So far this season, we are shooting two fewer free throws per game than our opponents. But if we take out the first two games where we surprised the other teams with our System approach, we are shooting 13 fewer free throws per game!  In eight seasons at ONU our teams averaged shooting five more free throws per game than our opponents, due partly to our aggressive driving game, and partly due to our emphasis on "playing clean."

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, excessive fouling can be a problem, and we are not alone at NCC among System teams struggling with this in the early season.  Coincidentally it's been a subject of discussion on the runandgun chat group as well.  How do you coach a team to not foul as often?  What approach works best to correct this problem?  I could talk about drills you could do to improve in this area, but it all starts with two simple points of emphasis: Awareness and Balance.

The first step to improving awareness, and with it a commitment to reducing your team fouls, is to define those situations in which you are most often caught fouling unnecessarily.  You might respond, "All fouls are unnecessary!"  But this ain't necessarily so.  And maintaining balance is difficult due to the fact that in System basketball you are playing very aggressively, sometime at a pace beyond your players' abilities to control themselves.  John Wooden said that poor balance was the cause of most poor execution, and felt it should be taught like any other fundamental skill, and I think we can infer that fouling too is the result of poor balance.  (Try reaching in for a steal while maintaining perfect balance... not as easy as it sounds!)

How do you teach balance?  Emphasize keeping the head directly over the base (feet), not leaning forward or sideways.  Do "reaction drills" where players must change directions instantly, moving left, right, forward, and back at full speed. 

The alternative is to tell them to slow down and get under control, but you don't want to tell them that, do you? Okay then, while playing fast, does you team know how to pick it's spots?  I think an accidental foul while rotating for a steal is something we can live with.  We are being aggressive, may get a steal, and are forcing tempo. 

But we want our players very clear (aware) that two situations where we definitely do not want to foul are in a trap (bodying up or reaching), or in the lane (leaving our feet to block a shot).  Bob Belf in a recent chat group post adds "hipping the breakaway dribbler" or reaching in while running beside the dribbler.  Pretty dumb. 

Another aspect of awareness is helping players understand why fouling is such a no-no for System teams.  First and foremost, it stops the clock and the opponent gets to rest.  Second, it prevents us from maintaining a rhythm, breaking back after a rebound or even after a score.  Third, you get into foul trouble.  Fourth, they get a free throw.  Again, pretty dumb.  But do they players really understand this?  Help them see the importance of (to put it more positively), "Playing Clean!"

One last point.  I heard once that it's impossible to sneeze and keep your eyes open at the same time.  Something about how our nervous system is wired.  And in your playing days, did you ever notice that whenever you reached in for a steal your feet stopped moving? Try it sometime, and make your players aware of that simple fact.  Why do they do it, then?  Simple behavioral reinforcement... they got away with it once or twice, and occasionally are rewarded with a the lab rat getting a sugar pellet once every 10 times it presses the lever. 

But the rat eventually fouled out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post Play

A primary difference between the offense we used at ONU and the Grinnell attack is the involvement of a post player.  We included this element from our earliest System days for two simple reasons:  a) I was a post player and like teaching that aspect of the game, and b) we had good post players throughout my tenure at Olivet.  Reason enough to include some inside threat, especially since we were still consistently meeting our goal of creating half our shots from beyond the arc!  Why not a few layups, too?

This past week we made good progress in integrating our drive and kick series (DK) and the pass and downscreen series (DS).  These two continuities allow us to stay in a four-out set while giving offensive players two basic options: penetrate and kick to a shooter, or downscreen for a shooter.

A third way to create a three-point shot is what we call "Post Inside-Out."  Normally, getting the ball inside is more for the purpose of creating a good inside shot.  In our offense, although this is certainly an option, we use the post as an additional point of attack.  That is why we train our post players to always catch, chin the ball, and look over their inside shoulders before making any post move.  This look inside allows them to see if a player is open at the top for a three point shot, often coming off a weakside downscreen.

But if we have a strong inside player, as we often did at ONU, we also will encourage them to attempt to score inside.  However, we limit their post moves to three specific options: the Power Move, the Layback, and the Spin Move.  All three of these options are set up based on the post player's ability to "read the defense" before making the appropriate scoring move.

  1. Power Move.  This is an old standby, which everyone teaches.  Our post catches, chins, and looks inside.  If the post defender is leaning to the high side, we teach our players to dropstep, take one hard dribble and score the power jumper.
  2. Layback Move.  We originally developed this move because some of our post players at ONU were small and overmatched inside, and could not create a shot over the defender, so... we decided the only thing to do is create "separation" via the Layback move.  Again: catch, chin, look inside.  If the post defender is not there (i.e. is sealing the baseline to prevent the Power move), we step with the inside foot, dribble, and take two more steps to complete the layback, shooting off the glass on the far side of the lane.  Think of this as an off-side layup:  three steps, one dribble, and very difficult to block.
  3. Spin Move.  The last move in this sequence has our post again catching, chinning the ball, and seeing inside.  If the post sees no defender, she starts a Layback move by stepping with the inside foot towards the middle of the lane and taking a dribble... but if the defense then jumps to the inside to take this move away, our post then drop-steps with the trail foot and spins back to the outside for a power jump shot.
The beauty of the three moves is that they follow the "path of least resistance."  We don't force anything, we just simply take what the defense chooses to give us! 

"But," you ask, "what if the defense doubles down on the post?"  Well, how many coaches do you think will encourage a post double-team vs. an offense that averages 45 three-point attempts per game?  Not many.  Which is why our post players at ONU tended to shoot such high percentages.  As I've noted before in our book, we had one season in which all three low post players shot over 60% in league play.  And two years ago our post player led the nation in FG percentage, shooting 67% for the year.  Not bad for a 5-8 player.

As with any System team, we use the three-point threat as our primary weapon.  But the Olivet Attack also uses the perimeter threat to set up our post game.  Unlike conventional offenses which are "inside-out" oriented, we are an "outside-in" team.  And this week we plan to work on integrating that final weapon into our offense!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Day of Rest

What is your approach to off days?  This being Sunday, I thought I'd write about the various approaches that coaches have to taking days off during the season. 

  1. No Days Off.  When I was an assistant coach at West Texas State during the early 1990s, NCAA rules allowed a team to practice and play every day... so we did.  Our head coach felt we could always find something to improve on, and since we ran four presses, three half-court defenses, seven BLOBs, six SLOBs, and 30+ offensive sets, it did take us awhile to work on that stuff.  And we were not unusual in that respect... most college coaches today have similarly complex offensive and defensive schemes.  For System teams, however, this is not a sound approach.  We believe that rest is as critical to performance as work.
  2. Sundays Off.  When the NCAA legislated to require one off day per week, many teams began taking Sunday off, unless the game schedule makes it necessary to take off another day (example:  You play on Monday, so you practice Sunday and take off Tuesday).  At ONU, being a church affiliatated, we were required to take Sundays off... which was fine with me!
  3. Day Off After a Game.  Andy Hoaglin at Jackson Community College told attendees at the RunandGun Clinic this fall that his team always takes a day off after a game.  His feeling is that this gives players a routine, and is something for them to look forward to.  "But" asked one coach, "what if you have multiple days playing every other day?"   Andy pointed out that his team did indeed have a stretch of games like that for almost two weeks, during which they did not practice!  I think it was something like 7 games in 11 days, and as I recall, JCC won them all.  No practices at all, just fresh legs and happy kids.  Of course, he was winning a lot too, and how this would work after a loss is hard to project.  But I like the concept.
  4. Change of Pace Practices.  Instead of an off day, at ONU we would sometimes just have a different type of practice, usually involving some type of contest.  One day it might be our "Skittles Free Throw" contest, where players could earn Skittles based on how many free throws they made during a certain period of time.  Or we might have a Free Throw Tournament, with brackets and playoffs.  Our favorite was the annual, "Dodgeball Day" in which we divided into teams and played the old favorite.  We did have one rule:  No hitting in the head. :-)
  5. Surprise Days Off.  Our other approach at ONU was to occasionally surprise players with an extra unscheduled day off.  After a weekday win, we might post on the locker room door, "Have a nice day!"  One time, we had the team dress out, shoot some free throws, then gathered them together and told them they could go home if they wanted. They didn't.  Instead, ten minutes later as I walked back through the gym, they had chosen up sides and were scrimmaging.  But the big kids were playing guard, and the guards were playing inside.  Needless to say they were having a blast. 
The point is, when you get to the place in System ball where your kids want to come in on their own even if you give them a day off, you've got it made.

Have a nice Sunday!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ticking Time Bomb

NCC 88- Central (IA) 83
FGAs:    81
Threes:   47
ORBs:    17%
TOs:       26 forced
Shots:   +10

NCC 94- Luther (IA) 77
FGA:     83
Threes:  40
ORBs:   24%
TOs:      37 forced
Shots:    +15

Coaching college basketball is SO glamorous! 

Sorry for the layoff since my last blog post on Tuesday.  I didn't see my wife and cats for four days, getting back home at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday night (Friday morning), then getting up again at 9, taking care of a few errands, then back to Naperville for a short practice, and topping it all off with a recruiting night on the town.

But you don't want to hear about my sad life.  The good news is that--despite the Formula numbers--we actually looked like a System team again with our second and third straight wins on the road in Iowa against (previously) undefeated Central College, and (previously) 3-1 Luther. 

We gave Central some excellent opportunities to work on their free throw skills by putting on the line 46 times.  That, along with the other Formula numbers you see above, make it hard to understand how we won.  We shot only 53% from the foul line ourselves, 23% from the arc, and were -29 rebounding.  The most telling stat was our 17% ORBs.  But Central seemed a bit uncomfortable with the pace, shooting poorly from the field.  It's interesting that we could shoot 11-47 from the arc and still outshoot our opponent: 38% to 34%!

Luther was a different story.  The press was outstanding, forcing 37 TOs.  Our players were very active and seem to be anticipating well.  But once again our offensive rebounding was awful at 24%.

This is a ticking time bomb.   It is our Achilles heel.  It will catch up with us eventually if we don't start making it a matter of priority. We absolutely must improve in this area, and our demonstrated inability to score 100 in any game this year reflects that reality.  We hit 17-40 threes vs. Luther (42%) and still only scored 94 points!  A System team has to rebound well on the offensive boards or else will risk losing games on those nights when shots just won't fall.

Now don't get me wrong.  We are thrilled to be 4-2 right now.  We are seeing tremendous improvement in almost all aspects of System performance.  Except one.  Tick...tick...tick...

I've had two conversations with System coaches the past few days, and felt like a hypocrite telling them how essential offensive rebounding is to System success when we are doing such a substandard job of it ourselves.  Here's the bewildering part, though:  we know we can do it when we want to... we just don't want to very often.  How do I know we are able to be a solid ORB team?  In the second half of our win at Benedictine last Saturday we got 53% ORBs after really emphasizing that point at halftime.  Then we get 21% ORBs over the next two games.

"What drills do you use to improve offensive rebounding?" asked one coach.  My answer:  there ain't no drills (at least, there aren't any that you aren't already using).  There's only this... make it a big deal!  It's not what you talk about, it's what you emphasize. 

Are you emphatically emphasizing this point with your team?  Give them feedback on their ORB performance at every halftime and after every game.  Preach it... sell it... plead, beg, demand.  Do what you have to but never forget...

Offensive rebounding is the most important stat in System basketball.