Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Breaking Down: A look at the 'Burn Offense' and why Georgetown's defense was perfect

Shane Ryan, formerly of Seth Curry Saves Duke who currently writes for Grantland (and has written for Ballin' is a Habit in the past), wrote about the Georgetown-Notre Dame game from Monday night. I covered that game. I had an up close and personal view of what happened. While the title of Ryan's post is correct -- John Thompson III schools Mike Brey -- every other conclusion that Ryan reaches I strongly, albeit respectfully (I'll admit, I enjoyed SCSD), disagree with.

Before I get into that, let's quickly take a look at Notre Dame's "Burn" Offense.

Essentially, the goal of the "Burn" is to reduce the number of possessions in a game. Notre Dame will generally run 15-20 seconds off the clock before they even begin to get into their offensive sets. The thinking is that the Irish, by taking the air out of the ball and controlling the pace and rhythm -- or lack thereof -- of the game will put that much more pressure on their opponent to be efficient and patient offensively.

Against a man-to-man, the ideal for Notre Dame is to get the shot clock down to about 10 or 12 seconds and run a high ball-screen using either one of their talented back court playmakers, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. In this example from early in a win at West Virginia, you'll see Eric Atkins ... :

... and then Jerian Grant dribbling out the shot clock:

With 10 seconds left on the clock, Jack Cooley comes up and sets a ball-screen. Jabarie Hinds goes under the screen and Deniz Kilicli offers no hedge, giving Grant a free lane to attack the basket:

Truck Bryant slides over to help, leaving Eric Atkins wide-open for a three from the corner. He misses, but Mike Brey will take that shot every possession:

The next example is against an extended, matchup zone that St. John's plays:

The zone is similar is some regards to the switching, man-to-man defense that Georgetown threw at the Irish. The Johnnies were matched up with the player in their area in the zone:

But when that player would cut through the zone, they weren't following:

While Notre Dame actually made their move a little earlier in the shot clock than usual, you'll see Grant once again attacking the lane and kicking the ball out to a wide open Dragovich as the St. John's defense collapses around him. This time the three went down:

Here's another example of Notre Dame's zone offense, this time against the 2-3 that Syracuse runs. I'm not going to break it down frame-by-frame, but I wanted you to get a feel for what they tried to do against a 2-3:


The first flaw in Ryan's logic is that Notre Dame should have abandoned their game plan coming into the game.

He asks "So WHY, why on earth, would you ever want to stall at the top of the key against them?"

Its simple. Because if Notre Dame had made 6-31 from three instead of 4-31 at St. John's on Saturday -- the majority of which were fairly open looks -- the Irish would have head into the Verizon Center on a ten game winning streak. Included in that winning streak? Handily beating both Marquette (their only loss since Jan. 7th) and Syracuse (their only loss of the season) as well as a win at UConn and a sweep of West Virginia.

As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

As much as Ryan wants to pin this loss on Notre Dame, the fact of the matter is that Georgetown played flawless defense. Not only did the Hoyas execute to perfection, John Thompson III drew up a beautiful game-plan and just so happened to have the perfect personnel for it.

Thompson had his bigs hedge softly -- meaning, more or less, they would switch until the defender was able to recover -- on the ball-screens while opting to allow Notre Dame's drivers to try and beat their man and finish over Georgetown's athletes around the rim instead of helping off of shooters and trying to cut off drives.

Here's a perfect example. Cooley sets a ball-screen for Grant, and while Hollis Thompson goes over the screen, Henry Sims hedges to prevent Grant from driving or getting a good look on a jumper while Thompson hustles to recover:

Part of what allowed Georgetown to switch the ball screens is that they have big men -- namely Otto Porter and Greg Whittington, but Sims can be thrown into that group as well -- that can defend on the perimeter as well as they can in the paint. Here, you see Thompson again getting hung up on a screen after Notre Dame moved the ball around the perimeter, only this time Porter switches onto Grant:

Grant tries to penetrate, but Georgetown doesn't help off of shooters. Sims eventually helps to cut off the drive, leaving Tom Knight open for an 18 footer. He hits it, but frankly, I think JT III can live with 18 footers from Tom Knight:

This example is unique. Georgetown did this on a handful of possessions against Notre Dame. While they are technically still in a man-to-man, the Hoyas are switching all like exchanges on the perimeter. In other words, every time a perimeter player sets a screen for -- or even runs by -- another perimeter player, Georgetown switches it. In this picture, Porter and Clark switch:

Here, its Clark and Whittington:

Thompson makes a mistake here, chasing after his man and forcing Clark to scramble to recover:

And as you'll see in the video, it makes Notre Dame uncomfortable. They end up trying to force a backdoor pass and turn the ball over:

This may be the best example of what I'm talking about. Sims hedges softly on the ball-screen while Porter sloughs off of Martin in the scorer to help prevent Grant hitting Cooley on the roll:

The ball gets swung to Martin, who uses a pump-fake to beat Porter's close-out:

Martin gets a step on Porter, but neither Whittington or Thompson help off of the shooters they are guarding. As a result, Martin drives hard left into the lane until Sims steps up to cut him off, taking a charge in the process:

There isn't much else to say about this last example other than its an absolutely gorgeous defense possession. Just enjoy it. I'm not even going to muck it up with words:

Notre Dame got beat in all facets of the game against the Hoyas. And yes, that includes Mike Brey getting out-coached by John Thompson III. But in no way, shape or form was Brey wrong to use the Burn Offense.


Blackburn said...
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Blackburn said...

Wonders how many College coaches are running to Ballin' is a Habit for pointers.

Props to Brey to get players to buy into a huge team oriented system built on patience. Took awhile for this years team to understand the plan. NCAA tourney should play till their style.

JT3 and the tall trees could give easily give Kentucky the KO.

Now wants to see a ND vs. LIU Brooklyn battle.