Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Breaking Down: The John Beilein 'System'

When you talk about Michigan, you always hear about the 'John Beilein system' and how its so difficult to defend and prepare for.

But what, exactly, is the Michigan attack all about? How is Beilein able to so consistently take a group of over-achievers and turn them into a nationally competitive basketball team? What is it about this 'system' that has been so good to Beilein at so many different stops?

In the latest edition of our Breaking Down series, we dive into the attack of the Wolverines.

Past Breaking Downs:

- How Jared Cunningham defended John Jenkins
- The breakdowns in the Pitt defense

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about John Beilein is the 1-3-1 zone that his employs. And while that zone is effective, its rarely used by the Wolverines. According to Synergy Sports database, Michigan has operated against a zone offense on fewer than 13% of their defensive possessions. While that number can be a bit misleading because of how often teams will use their man offenses against zone -- it helps create movement, as teams unaccustomed to playing against a zone have a tendency to get stagnant offensively -- the fact of the matter is that Beilein uses his zone defense as nothing more than a change of pace, the same way that any other coach will throw on a full-court press from time to time.

There are situations where the Wolverines will go almost exclusively zone. Against Memphis, 24 of Michigan's 63 defensive possessions were played in zone. Against UCLA, however, the Wolverines only played zone on four possessions. Another thing to note is that the 1-3-1 is not the only zone that Michigan is able to play; 20 of the 24 zone possessions that Beilein played against Memphis was in a 2-3.

But the 1-3-1 is effective, and its worth discussing because there will be times this year that Michigan will go almost exclusively to that defense depending on their matchup.

Beilein's zone isn't much different than a standard 1-3-1. He uses one of his bigger wings -- in this case, Tim Hardaway Jr. -- at the top, with two guards on the wings, the point guard under the basket and the center in the middle. Hardaway's job is to force the ball-handler, in this case Lazeric Jones, to pick a side. When Jones crosses half court, Hardaway and the strong side wing, Eso Akunne, will put a soft trap on the dribbler. Stu Douglass, who is on the baseline, hedges out on the baseline to be able to get to the man in the corner, while Zack Novak, the weak-side wing, drops on the opposite wing to protect a lob pass (click on the images to enlarge):

When the ball gets rotated to Jerime Anderson, Novak and Hardaway get another soft trap to prevent dribble penetration while Douglas rotates over to the other side of the lane and Akunne drops to protect the lob:

When the ball eventually makes its way to the corner, Akunne, the strong side wing, and Douglas, the baseline defender, trap the ball. Novak, the weakside wing, drops all the way to the rim while the center, Jon Horford, matches up with the opposing big man and Hardaway drops to the foul line to protect the high-post:

Here's the full video of the possession, which ends with what was very nearly a steal:

And here's another example of a possession in the 1-3-1 zone from the Memphis game:

On the offensive end of the floor is where Beilein's coaching style gets so interesting. Michigan has so many different plays and wrinkles off of those plays that they run, but their offense is fairly simple. It starts in a 2-1-2 set, with the two guards up high, a big man at the high-post and two more wing plays in the corners. From there, a play is called and the offense in initiated by one of the guards passing to the strong side wing. In this example, Trey Burke passes the ball to Novak while Douglass and Hardaway are on the weak side of the floor and Horford is at the high-post:

This is when it gets fun.

Out of this set, the Wolverines have a number of different options and reads that they use, but they all center around the idea of cutting hard, off-ball screens and rolls to the rim. In this particular example, Burke clears to the corner after passing the ball to Novak. Horford flashes out to rotate the ball while Douglass sets a screen for Novak at the high-post, and as Novak cuts across the lane using the screen, Horford swings the ball to Hardaway:

Horford than steps over and sets a ball-screen for Hardaway. Since Novak wasn't open on the cut, he and Douglass set a double back-screen for Horford as he rolls off of the Hardaway ball-screen:

The defense is so focused on defending Horford that they lose track of Novak, who is left wide-open on the three point line:

Here is the full play:

The beauty of this play design is that just five minutes of game-time earlier, Michigan ran a similar set that ended up in a wide-open layup for Horford. As Akunne passed the ball to Novak, both he and Douglas, who was the other guard at the top of the offense, cut through:

Novak, instead of swinging the ball, dribbled over to the other side of the floor. Hardaway, who was the opposite side wing, cut through as Douglass came up to receive the pass:

Horford set a ball-screen for Douglass while Novak set a down-screen for Hardaway, who curled through and popped to the top of the key:

As Horford rolled off of the ball-screen, his defender -- Josh Smith -- lost track of him in the confusion, and Hardaway found him for a layup:

Here is the full play:

The majority of Beilein's sets start with the guards at the top cutting through. Here's a perfect example from the Memphis game, where Novak sets a back screen for Hardaway before receiving a downscreen from Jordan Morgan:

And since Beilein is the king of the counter option, here is Douglass taking advantage of guards anticipating his cut through the lane and using a flare screen from Evan Smotrcyz:

John Beilein is the ultimate tactician when it comes to designing plays at the college level, and this is just a fraction of the playbook that he has given his Michigan team. When his offense is run correctly, it truly is a pleasure to watch.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I know this is dated, but I played in college using the 2 guards system. I recall it being very difficult to learn. It is all decision making...read and react. You follow what the ball and the guy in front of you do and you try to make the correct decision based on personnel, situation, etc.

After becoming a "disciple" of this offense I can say when you are running it and it is working it is a pleasure to play in and a pleasure to watch (in my opinion)