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Well before this season started, Robert and I discussed the idea of bringing basketball video breakdowns into the IlliniBoard content universe - a basketball version of "Check The Tape" if you will. It's actually been on my "To Do" list for a couple of seasons now, but the barrier has always been logistics - mainly my comfort level with creating and editing video clips.
But after Robert put out the virtual suggestion box a few weeks ago, it became clear this was something our readers wanted, and it was time to make this happen.
With multiple games per week (in a non-COVID world anyway), I think the most productive way to make this work would be a compilation of "plays of the week" - or maybe more accurately - "plays which caught my eye". So consider this the first installment of what we plan to make a semi-regular series. As this is the maiden voyage, your feedback is not only welcomed, but encouraged.
So without further ado, let's go to the tape...
Conventional wisdom says to make Ayo go left. It's not that he can't beat you going left (just ask Pat Chambers), but the metrics show he is less efficient going to his left off ball screens. In this clip of a crucial possession from late in the Maryland game - we see one of his less successful attempts in that direction.
The action starts with a four flat set (one from which Ayo has thrived in the past), but the Terps defended this one well by leaving Andre Curbelo to help on Ayo's drive. Even if Ayo recognized the double, there was no passing angle available for him to find the open Curbelo. In retrospect, Curbelo appears to have his choice of screening left or right, and it's worth wondering how this possession might have ended had Curbelo opted for the slip screen on Ayo's stronger hand.
One reason we have struggled with inconsistency this season has been our penchant for turnovers. We rank in the bottom half of the conference in turnover percentage, and in a league as closely contested as the Big Ten, every possession is too precious to be turning the ball over at a 17% rate. At times, even the seemingly simple tasks have proven challenging. Basketball can be an easy game, but it gets hard pretty quick when you aren't throwing and catching the ball consistently. For example, feeding the low post - admittedly an underrated fundamental - has been an unnecessary adventure at times. Take this clip from that awful first half at Northwestern...
Kofi is far too deep to have enough space for an "over the top" pass - especially when the defender fronting him is a springy 6' 11" athlete. Ayo's pass had to be perfect...and it wasn't. Here's another example - this time from Curbelo.
Curbelo's entry pass is bad on several levels. He can't get it to Kofi's right hand because Ohio State's Kyle Young is sagging low enough to provide help easily. He can't get it to Kofi's left hand because EJ Liddell has that side well covered. He can't throw it over the top because help is waiting behind him. Kofi also has no real business calling for the ball from that spot on the floor. Curbelo attempts the pass anyway - with predictable results.
Of course, it hasn't been all bad. Far from it in fact. We are one of the best teams in the country at scoring in the half court on post-ups, and here's a particularly good example of that..
There is so much to like here. It starts with a great post entry from Ayo. He gets to a spot on the wing for an ideal pass angle and delivers the ball perfectly to Kofi's right hand - away from the defender. Basketball is easy, remember?
Kofi then finishes with a move that just wasn't part of his arsenal last season. I'm marveling at his footwork as he sells the fake to the middle and then counters with a drop step and left hand conversion. Last season, he likely would have just tried to muscle up the right hand baby hook. I'll take this opportunity to point out that Kofi has been all kinds of fantastic this season. He's been arguably better than Ayo in Big Ten games - or at the very least more impactful. While he's not expanded his away from the basket game, he's improved his efficiency around the basket by leaps and bounds - converting field goals at an eye-popping 73% rate in conference play compared to just 49% last season.
Now let's talk a bit about Coleman Hawkins. His offensive potential is intriguing, but like so many freshmen, it's the defensive end of the floor which has prevented him from earning consistent minutes.
He actually makes a solid closeout, but then he gets caught in the middle. He doesn't want to get beat off the dribble, and while it looks like he has his man (Seth Towns) guarded, all it takes from Towns is one jab step to create enough space to snap off the corner three.
In this next clip, you get an idea of why he's not so anxious to get up close and personal when he's guarding the ball.
Kyle McCloskey - not exactly Penn State's quickest of penetrators - blows by Hawkins easily and when Giorgi has to provide help, the rim is left wide open for an off ball back cut from Izaiah Brockington. Hawkins will get better as an on-ball defender as he matures physically and learns a few tricks, but on the positive side he has length and also appears to have natural instincts as a shot blocker - and trash talker...
To finish off this little film session, let's take a quick look at our offense. For all the fits and starts we've seen from the offense during games, on the whole we've actually been quite good at scoring the ball (8th in the country and 2nd in the Big Ten conference in offensive efficiency). One big reason - ball movement. Despite the turnovers, we are actually an excellent passing team - ranking 15th in the country in assists per possession. Moreso than any season in recent memory, the ball is not getting stuck, If anything, I think we've been unselfish to a fault, but more often than not, we keep the ball moving until it finds someone in a good position to score.
This is almost a great offensive possession. We get the ball into Kofi who makes the perfect read and pass out of the triple team to Jacob Grandison. The definition of inside-out action. Grandison takes the three - which wasn't a bad shot - but one more pass would have created an even better one as Adam Miller is standing essentially unguarded in the corner. The difference between a good shot and a great one - the extra pass.
Something like this...
And just for fun, let's celebrate what was for my money our best offensive possession of this season to date...
One dribble. Six passes. Pure basketball porn. More of this please.