First Weekend Tourney Observations

Posted by on March 23, 2016

1. Virginia Small-Ball Against Butler

Normally small-ball lineups are used for offensive purposes. More shooting and/or quickness on the floor leads to better spacing and mismatches. However, Virginia went small on Saturday with defense in mind.
After Andrew Chrabascz started the game 9 for 11 from the field, Tony Bennett switched 6’5″ Malcolm Brogdon on 6’7″ Chrabascz. The results were very good. Chrabascz missed his only two field goal attempts with Brogdon on him and did not attempt a three after starting the game 4 for 4.
Here are Chrabascz’s two post-up attempts, with Brogdon (defensive player of the year in the ACC) forcing very difficult shots despite being undersized:

The defensive matchup forced Bennett to use a small-ball lineup featuring London Perrantes, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Malcolm Brogdon, and Anthony Gill. The lineup had only played 15 possessions together the entire season for Virginina. Still, take a look at the combos defensive numbers compared to the other lineups used:
Don’t expect to see that lineup at least to start out against Iowa State. However, Brogdon on Georges Niang might not be the worst idea in the world as long as it doesn’t put him in foul trouble.

2. Stephen F. Austin Goes Out Swinging Down the Stretch

While Virginia made key late game adjustments to their defense in the round of 32, Brad Underwood and Stephen F. Austin chose to stick with what got them there. Despite a small lead down the stretch against Notre Dame, SFA maintained their defensive identity of forcing turnovers and intense pressure.
The Lumberjacks are one of the few teams that are always in denial when guarding one (and even two or three) pass away. This is the reason they ranked number one in the country in defensive turnover percentage. SFA also likes to trap in the halfcourt, with the other three defenders flying around to intercept passes and protect the paint.
Brad Underwood didn’t try to play it safe with a lead against Notre Dame’s high powered offense. First, take a look at this trap (up three with three to play) as soon as Demetrius Jackson passes the halfcourt line:
Jackson had only eight shot attempts the entire game and making someone else beat them down the stretch was clearly a goal for Stephen F. Austin.
Even later in the game the Lumberjacks still remained up three and stuck with their fullcourt pressure. Take a look below at all four Notre Dame players being denied the ball:
Obviously Stephen F. Austin lost the game, but it wasn’t for lack of good defensive possessions down the stretch. Notre Dame won the game on an offensive rebound put-back and also scored a late bucket off a baseline out of bounds play. The pressure worked pretty well from a “process” point of view.
Dramatic coaching adjustments stand out and are often scrutinized to a very high degree. However, in this case Underwood chose to stick to SFA’s identity despite a late lead. It’s hard to argue with decision considering how ingrained the press and traps are in the Lumberjacks’ DNA.

3. 2015 Duke Versus 2016 Duke

Earlier this week I tweeted out the adjusted efficiency visual for the Sweet 16 members. It features Duke in a very similar position as last year: Very strong offensively and very weak defensively:
So are the Blue Devils ready to make a surprise run to the Final Four? The answer is probably not. Last year’s Duke team was fantastic defensively in the NCAA tournament despite struggling throughout the entire regular season. This year’s Duke team didn’t make that jump in the first two rounds against UNC Wilmington or Yale:
2015 Duke managed to have one of the best tournaments of all time in terms of defensive performance despite being very average all season long. Okafor and company held their first four opponents to .9 points per possession or below and then held the high-powered Wisconsin offense to 1.06. The 2016 version does not appear to be making that same jump.
A relatively easy path and a great offense has put Duke back in the Sweet 16, but it seems unlikely the defense is good enough to get them back to a Final Four.

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