Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Dry Erase Board: John Beilein's "2 Guard-Offense"




There are two facts all basketball fans should be accepting right now. 1) We won't be watching professional basketball for at least another month or so and 2) No matter how much we love college basketball, it is not as good. Watching two teams play super hard is only fun if they are playing hard AND playing well. Let's face it, there is a ton of ugly, 48-46 college basketball games and that's even at the highest levels. There is excitement for the upcoming college basketball season not only because of the NBA lockout but because the power teams are littered with NBA talent and no matter what "purists'' say that is what we all want to see. Since the large majority of college teams are not blessed with elite physical talent hoops fans have to find some other way to be interested in the product. One of the ways basketball nerds can find enjoyment in college hoops is watching "systems" instead of players.

Basketball systems, or playing styles, are created by the coaching staff to provide the program with an identity. In "The Dry Erase Board" series (who uses chalk boards?) I will breakdown some of college basketball's more unique systems that maximize talent and hide physical shortcomings. And no, the "Pro-Style" or "Dribble-Drive" offense will not be featured. To quote Coach Cal from a Nike clinic I attended the key to the "Dribble-Drive" offense is to "have more talented and athletic players than your opponent"...pure genius. Today we will look at Upstate New York's own John Beilein and his "2 Guard Offense". (Interesting note: Beilein has been a JUCO, D3, D2 and D1 coach for 35 years and never an assistant)

The General Concept An off-spring of the Princeton offense, the 2-Guard offense emphasizes unique floor spacing, back-screening, hard cuts to the basket and perimeter shooting. The 2-Guard is most known for having 4 offense players on the perimeter (2 in the slots and 2 on the wings) and 1 post player that positions himself between the foul line and the top of the key (i.e. Pittsnogle). When spaced correctly the players should form a flat "X" and the deep corners should be left unoccupied for cutters to fill.

The Action The 2-Guard offense is sometimes unfairly labeled as a "continuity" offense where a pattern can be run over and over (i.e. the "Flex" or "Swing") but it's really more of a quick hit motion like the "Triangle". The action is determined by the first pass made and that pass triggers a serious of deep corner cuts, back screens, down screens and pick and rolls. No matter what action is triggered it depends on one important element; shooting. The idea is to get the defense spread out and off the help-line which neutralizes shot-blocking and athleticism.

The Players Many times unique offensive systems are created because not all programs can recruit the elite talent so they recruit the talent that is right for them. John Beilein's programs are a perfect example of this philosophy. I recently had the opportunity to sit-in on two University of Michigan practices. The first thing I noticed was how physically unimposing the roster was as they came out on the court. The second thing I noticed was how unbelievably quick they were to pick-up on everything the coaching staff put in front of them. The number one skill a John Beilein player must possess is basketball IQ. The actual system is not that complicated and it doesn't come attached with 30 set calls but the players must know how to play the game. 18-22 year-olds must know how to play like old dudes at the Y who have lost there athleticism. If basketball IQ is skill 1A) then shooting is skill 1AA) and arguably even more important. The 2-Guard can only operate at full-strength when all 5 players on the floor are knock down shooters. It can be argued that some of Beilein's struggles at Michigan can be attributed to the fact that he hasn't found that guy yet. Since players 1-4 in the 2-Guard are for the most part interchangeable you do not have to have a traditional point guard or power forward on the roster, which are two of the hardest positions to recruit. Ultimately you need to recruit players with versatile skill-sets who are a knock down shooters, are somewhere between 6'2"-6'7" and know how to play. So pretty much Euros...

The Strengths Like all effective "systems" the 2-Guard offense does an excellent job of emphasizing strengths and hiding weaknesses. If your team doesn't feature elite athletes the floor spacing that is created by the 2-Guard generates the space needed to get to the basket for high percentage shots either through cuts, back screens or dribble drives. Of course the 3-point shot is a major weapon and is associated as the vocal point of an offense like this. However, it is the the threat of a 3-pointer in your face that is more important than the actual shot. That threat starts forcing a defender to hug his man and neglect his helpside defensive duties leaving the basket open for uncontested lay-ups. The video above is a perfect example of a more talented Michigan State team uncharacteristically giving up easy buckets and leaving the rim unprotected.

The Weaknesses Smart coaches will stay true to the "live by the 3, die by the 3" philosophy and not panic if a couple of bombs drop in and the building is rocking. For the most part, teams do not lose from 3-pointers. Even if a team goes 12 for 20 from 3-point land that's still only 36 points, so how did they score 80? Teams should stay true to protecting the rim from the weak-side and making the other team contested jump shooters. The trap that 2-Guard teams fall into is too many jump shots, long rebounds and run-outs the other way. However, teams defending the 2-Guard do want to limit corner threes by not helping on dribble drives from the strong-side creating easy drive-and-kick opportunities. Stay at home and force the ball-handler to finish over help. If the center is not a great shooter than the other team can have their 5-man protect the rim at all times which is why it is important for the 5-man to be a shooting threat.

Conclusion Like many systems that are dependent on shooting the 2-Guard offense can be either unstoppable or extremely stoppable, there is no in-between. It looks like Michigan is going to land blue-chipper Mitch McGary, a skilled and athletic 4-man, and it will be interesting to see how an elite-level talent fits into this niche style of play. As a coach, I was on the bench when we whooped teams trying to run this and and I have sat there helpless when it was kicking our butt. Like 99.9% of all other situations in life the key is still talent, both on the court and on the sideline.

Next feature...University of Wisconsin: Bo Ryan's "Swing" Offense

26 comments:

John Hendrie said...

Great post. Love the new series. are you going to any defensive systems?

what a weird fact about Belein's career. Never an assistant? Bizarre and fascinating.

St Marker Nik Stauskas is going to kill in this system.

Cannot wait for the Bo Ryan edition of this series.

Dave Hendrie said...

Is it coincidence that your first two coaches have worked at every level? I think not.

I love how we have two guest contributors with intimate knowledge of d3 hoop where systems are an absolute must. Clearly Belein's system is just like Williams' on steroids.

I am beyond excited to see how Stauskas and recent commit Mitch McGary dominate this system. Wouldn't be surprised if Belein has turned this ship around at Michigan.

The question that always lingers is whether this system is good to have once you get elite talent. The fact that it requires taking time off the shot clock could keep inferior opponents in the game. Georgetown's recent tournament struggles indicate this.

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