Split Cuts: The Newest NCAA Trend

Posted by on January 8, 2016

Teams are shooting more threes than ever in the NCAA this season. 35% of all shot attempts have been three-pointers, which would be a record at season’s end. We are also a full week into January and a team (Saint Mary’s) is still shooting over 47% (!!) from behind the arc.
In the NCAA game, extreme styles and personnel allow for many different ways to play efficient basketball. The days of consistently posting up your center are for the most part gone in the NBA, but can certainly lead to efficient production in the NCAA depending on personnel.
Last season, this awesome video of the Warriors split cut actions off post ups showed just how tough elite three-point shooters are for a defense to handle. Post ups for the Warriors triggered split cuts on the perimeter where the strong side wings screen for each other.
The beauty of the Warriors’ split cuts is the diversity. The guards don’t do the same action every time, instead being unpredictable and reading the defense. NCAA coaches and teams love to copy actions from the NBA, but in the process can tend to lose track of the actual concepts behind the actions. The best examples of this are the Spurs’ Motion Strong and Motion Weak. In their simplest forms, Motion Strong is just a stagger screen and Motion Weak is just a screen the screener. Because they are the Spurs, NCAA teams were (and are) quick to copy these simple actions. The actions themselves are nothing special. However, the way the actions are taught and executed are what make them great. The Spurs have that same diversity the Warriors have in their split cuts – unpredictability and reading the defense.
There are many different options out of the split cuts. First is the basic action:

1. Basic Action

The basic action is the perimeter player closest to the post up setting a screen for the perimeter player next to him. This is so effective because the defense’s instinctual reaction on post ups is to turn and look inside. A shooter can get open in the blink of an eye.
Still, just running this action over and over will be easy for a defense to scout and stop. Which is the reason for the counter actions:

2. Reject Action

The closest perimeter play still goes to screen, but this time the screen is rejected in favor of a basket cut. Saint Mary’s (in particular) has done a fantastic job catching defenses sleeping with this counter this season.

3. Inverted Action

The second closest perimeter player sets what is essentially a flare screen for the guy that usually is doing the screening in the basic action. This is very hard to guard if the defender turns his head to dig in the post immediately following the entry.

4. Open Paint

Finally, all of the action makes it very hard for the defense to “dig” in the post. The gravity of three-point shooter can clear the paint for a one-on-one post up.
The YouTube video below is a compilation of split cuts from NCAA teams so far this season, featuring Saint Mary’s, BYU, Notre Dame, and Wichita State. All four teams use the post up as a trigger to get into the split cuts. Saint Mary’s does the best job of using the original concepts from the Warriors. Their ability to read the defense combined with great outside shooting makes the Gaels a nightmare to guard.


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