Rewind - Notre Dame
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When this season began, the Illinois offense was primed to be all about the ball screen. With passing wizard Andre Curbelo, roll target supreme Kofi Cockburn, and three point shooters galore, it promised to be nigh on impossible to defend.
Curbelo and Cockburn were going to pick and roll teams to death while daring opposing defenses to leave the arc to help.
Yet due to a roster that has been in perpetual flux since opening night - it's not exactly worked out that way thus far. With Curbelo out due to post-concussion issues, and Trent Frazier limited by shoulder and knee injuries, the point guard duties over the past two games have fallen primarily to Da'Monte Williams. DMW is a lot of things, but ball screen magician is not one of them. In fact, after the win against Notre Dame on Monday, Brad Underwood made note in the post game press conference that they ran "hardly any" ball screens the entire night.
Yet despite running short-handed, the Illini offense managed to ring up their two most efficient performances of the season in the last two games - scoring 1.31 PPP against UTRGV and 1.26 PPP against Notre Dame.
So, uh…how? I thought it would be fun to take a look at answering that question in this ball screen free edition of Rewind…
Right out of the gate we ran a "test the waters" set. Nothing fancy - just get the ball to Kofi immediately to gauge Notre Dame's defensive strategy. We showed a quick Horns set (two high posts) and flipped Coleman Hawkins to the top of the floor with Kofi posting. Had Notre Dame played it straight up, Kofi was going to work, but the double came immediately and it was clear the plan was for Kofi to expect that and look to pass to where the help defender had vacated.
Kofi had five assists all of last season. He has five in the last three games. Expect that number to continue to climb.
If you aren't relying on ball screens, the ball simply cannot stick in one spot. Dribble penetration and ball movement become the primary weapons. In this clip the ball never stops moving. RJ Melendez drives, draws the help defense, kicks out to DMW and then replaces him on the perimeter.
Drive-kick-replace. Basketball 101.
After burying four threes in the first ten minutes, we look to get Kofi going by posting him on the ball side of the lane while overloading the weak side of the floor. This alignment makes it almost impossible for the defense to bring a double team from that far away.
Actually, I'm not sure what Notre Dame is doing here. Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin are way too far from the arc to guard against the three, and yet neither of them show any real interest in actually doubling Kofi either.
This next clip highlights my favorite offensive possession of the night. We run Melendez through a couple of stagger screens and DMW clears the top of the floor, as Kofi sets a down screen for Alfonso Plummer. Plummer didn't have the shot (it wasn't Kofi's greatest screen), but the secondary action was a potential hi-low look back to Kofi. Notre Dame negated that by tagging Kofi from the corner - which left Luke Goode open at the arc. He drives by the close out attempt and two passes later…splash.
A beautiful offensive possession - without a single ball screen.
Sometimes you score from a perfectly executed offensive set and sometimes you just take advantage of terrible defense. Here Paul Atkinson inexplicably allows Kofi to get between him and the basket - off of a made field goal no less. That's just too easy.
And they let it happen AGAIN just a few possessions later.
Here we show Notre Dame the Horns set which was so effective against Michigan last year - with Kofi and Plummer on each "horn". The possession actually starts with a ball screen from Plummer after which Kofi "screens the screener" to free Plummer to set a down screen for Jacob Grandison. Notre Dame makes the unfortunate choice to go under the dribble hand off and Kofi gets his second assist of the night.
That Grandison triple was our seventh of the first half, and Mike Brey was getting understandably gun shy about leaving the arc undefended (he said as much in the post game press conference). Of course, that's a pick your poison situation because single teaming Kofi rarely works out well for a defense. Here we overload the weak side again and let Kofi eat…
The ball screen weave is one of our regular sets - although in this possession I'd be hard pressed to call any of those dribble hand offs actual ball screens. The idea on this particular play is misdirection. Notre Dame gets lulled to sleep while switching on the hand offs as Hawkins breaks off the pattern and gets a back screen from Kofi for the lob.
Ultimately, any offense looks good when the ball goes in the basket - especially from the arc. We're shooting 43% from three over this modest three game win streak with Alfonso Plummer the driving force behind that barrage (16 of his last 31). Here you see how even just the threat of his jumper opens other doors.
Prentiss Hubb rushes his close out and Plummer puts him on skates to create an easy look for Kofi.
Ultimately, with or without Andre Curbelo and ball screens or not, our offensive game plan is likely to remain pretty simple. We're going to keep throwing the ball to Kofi and make teams decide between guarding him straight up…
…or collapsing on him from the perimeter and leaving the arc unguarded…
And if our shooting percentage from three continues to hover around 40%, we're going to be a load for any defense to handle on most nights.