Rewind - Week 1

Nov 15, 2021

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With the first snowflakes of the season falling under a gunmetal gray sky on Friday, it felt like December and it felt like college basketball season. Even though we only have two games in the books, it also felt like it was time to fire back up the VCR for a little Rewind session. We started the "Rewind" series last January as kind of a basketball version of "Check The Tape", and as it was both well received and fun to do - it was a no brainer to get it rolling again this season.

In Tuesday's season opener, the Illini were - to put it mildly - short handed. Kofi Cockburn was serving the first of a three game suspension and Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, and Austin Hutcherson were all sitting out due to injury. These unusual circumstances left Brad Underwood without his low block monster and without a traditional facilitator at lead guard.

So hey, why not dial up the way back machine and run a little spread offense?

If you recall, Brad Underwood made his bones running the spread at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State before bringing it with him to Illinois. He then ran spread almost exclusively until the middle of his third season when it became apparent that a ball screen oriented approach was a much better fit for a team led by Ayo Dosunmu. The spread is a motion type offense which starts with all five players positioned at or above the free throw line in either a 3-2 or 2-3 alignment. It made sense on Tuesday because instead of requiring a lead guard, the spread puts four interchangeable players on the perimeter surrounding the player in the "pinch post". The pinch post is the high post area on the weak side of the floor and functions as the hub of the spread offense. Here we see Omar Payne at the pinch running one of the most basic of spread looks - the dribble hand off:

The spread made sense on Tuesday because instead of a guard facilitating the offense from the top of the floor, the spread allows for the offense to run out of the "pinch post". The pinch post is the high post area on the weak side of the floor. Here we see Omar Payne at the pinch area running one of the most basic of spread looks - the dribble hand off (DHO)…

Payne gets the entry pass from Coleman Hawkins and he becomes the facilitator. The Jackson State defender goes "under" the hand off back to Hakwins and when he goes the long way around to recover, the driving lane for Hawkins is open. Payne's defender has to decide between leaving Payne under the rim or attempting to challenge the layup. He stays home and Hawkins converts.

Another way you will see us use the pinch post is off of BLOB (BaseLine Out of Bounds) plays. In this set (which we run a lot) the player in the high post pins down his defender to receive the pass and again he becomes the facilitator.

Here, the pass goes to the corner first and then to Hawkins in the pinch. The first look is Payne running the baseline to receive a screen from the inbounder (Jacob Grandison). Grandison then rubs his man off Hawkins to receive the DHO and attacks the basket. Credit Payne with a great seal to open up the rim

And while we're on the subject of BLOBs - another set you will see us run frequently starts from a "box set" with a player at each corner of the free throw lane. Trent Frazier creates some misdirection by screening across the lane for Grandison, but then he doubles back and gets a screen for himself from BBV - freeing him up for the baseline jumper.

Another great set play that caught my eye from the Jackson State game came at the end of the first half. Here we overload the weak side and bring a high ball screen for Alfonso Plummer. Hawkins actually slips the screen here, and had his defender jumped the screen - he would have been open for a pick and pop three. Instead, Hawkins drags his defender with him allowing Plummer the dribble drive. Once Plummer turns the corner on his man, it's game over. One of the three defenders on the weak side has to help or Plummer has a lay-up. It's BBV's man who steps up to help and BBV gets the easy bucket.

The Illini defense was probably the biggest story of the first two games. After giving up just 100 points combined, they finished the week as the number one team in KenPom defensive efficiency. It was an equal opportunity defense - limiting three point opportunities, allowing just 34% on 2 point field goal attempts, and forcing 39 turnovers.

It was the turnovers which piqued my curiosity. After turning teams over at a rate of just 16% the last two seasons, our turnover rate in the two games this week was an eye-popping 27%. You have to consider sample size and competition level, but you also have to wonder if the length we can put on the floor might allow Brad Underwood to be a little more aggressive with his defense at times this season.

As we detailed several times last season in our Rewind series, our ball screen defense over the past two seasons was based on drop coverage - in which the defender of the screener drops down into the lane to guard against the roll. However, in this clip you will see Coleman Hawkins jump the ball screen which ends up forcing a turnover.

We literally NEVER do that with Kofi Cockburn so that's something to keep an eye on when the lengthy Hawkins is on the floor. It's unlikely we are going to see a return to the hyper-aggressive half court defense we saw in Underwood's first three seasons, but we might see it when Hawkins and Kofi are sharing time. With Kofi serving as a safety valve to protect the rim we should be able to avoid things like this happening to us if/when we jump screens at the top of the floor…

Another story in this first week was the silent efficiency of Jacob Grandison. Grandison led the team in scoring (17.5 ppg) through the two games,and during a press conference yesterday (Sunday) morning, Grandison talked about learning from the offensive repertoire of Ayo Dosunmu. We all remember how lethal Ayo was in the mid range and here is an example of Grandison putting that education to work…

As we talked about in the preview, the three point shot figures to be a much bigger weapon in the Illinois offense compared to recent years. One of our favorite ways to create open looks from the arc involves a little misdirection. Here you see Alfonso Plummer drag the entire Jackson State defense with him to the strong side with just two dribbles. This leaves Coleman Hawkins wide open in the corner…

Watch Plummer after the pass. He knew.

Andre Curbelo didn't play against Jackson State, but you'll see him look for this action a bunch as well…

Speaking of Curbelo, Illini Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when he returned to the floor on Friday against Arkansas State. It only took about two minutes for him to remind everyone why he is one of the most electric players in college basketball. I just pointed out the danger involved with hedging high ball screens, and well, you REALLY don't want to do that against Curbelo…

And here's one more Curbelo special. I let the clip play through the slo-mo replay so you can see him adjust his pass mid-air. He just gives it a little flip which ensures the pass clears the defender. As they say - you can't teach that…

Curbelo-Vision. It's appointment TV.

There was a lot of chatter from the Arkansas State bench on Friday about playing Curbelo strictly to pass. Maybe they were just loudly emphasizing their strategy or maybe they were trying to get in his head a little bit. Probably a little bit of both, but regardless, it's the very threat of him passing which creates scoring opportunities for him…

After Curbelo's quick reverse dribble, he freezes the entire Arkansas State defense. Not one defender is willing to leave his man lest he end up on a poster. LOL at #23.

Lastly - there is a long standing Illini fan tradition to fret over our offense when going up against a zone defense. And to be fair, in recent history a lot of that angst has been justified. Even last year, we only scored 0.901 PPP in the half court against zone defenses - which ranked only in the 42nd percentile across college basketball per Synergy Sports. This year may well prove to be a different story. Besides the bevy of three point shooters available this season, we also have any number of players who we can facilitate the offense from the middle of the floor against a zone. Da'Monte Williams, Andre Curbelo, and most certainly Coleman Hawkins…

Can't wait to get to Milwaukee.


San Joaquin on November 15, 2021 @ 09:25 AM

These are stellar. Much obliged.

mitchstevens on November 15, 2021 @ 01:24 PM

Tnx - these are my favorite posts/ very informative.

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