So,.... it's come to this. Once again Louisville and Michigan State will meet again in the NCAA Tournament. My heart was cheering for Sparty this afternoon, but my brain was telling me I wanted SLU to prevail. I don't think I need to remind any of you why my fanhood was split this afternoon, but just in case,... here.
I have a few questions, from a fan's perspective, about this year's version of the Spartans; and, I will gladly answer any questions that any of you might have about this year's version of the Cardinals that I don't already answer within the context of my questions for you.
#1. Has Sparty played any pressing teams this year? I'm talking about intense on ball pressure for 94feet, for 40minutes. If so, how did they fair against the pressure? At UK, Rick Pitino started his career by instituting a 1-2-1-1 zone press and paired it with a high tempo offense relying heavily on the 3-point shot. Pitino's version was a little different than others of that era and teams that tried to employ traditional press breakers against it would often turn the ball over and get run out of the gym.
Over the years, as teams developed specific press breakers for his version of the Zone Press, he adapted into what we use today which is more like a "match-up" press designed to look like a zone. The goal is to keep pressure on the ball and match-up man-to-man on the inbounds, but then execute double-teams depending on two things: ball location and your man's location. We don't really have the personnel this year, due to injuries, to trap a lot out of it. It's purpose is mostly to frustrate your guards and burn into the shot clock, so that once you get into your sets you've only got 25-20 seconds left to get a good look.
The match-up press is definitely more complicated than a zone press in that you aren't just responsible for an area of the court, but you must know where your man is and where the ball is, and then act accordingly. There are a lot of decisions to make individually and a mistake will absolutely do one of two things: 1. Your man is wide-open or 2. You allow the ball-handler to beat his defender on the dribble and now you have an undefended player speed-dribbling toward the basket. Neither typically turn out very well as you might imagine. If you don't understand the system or make slow or bad decisions, you will cause baskets for the other team.
#2. Has Sparty played a team this year that uses a Zone? This Zone is very active and I would be surprised if MSU has seen anything like it. I know Michigan runs a 1-3-1 but I don't know if it's an active, switching, ball pressuring zone like ours.
In the last 2-3 years Pitino has developed a match-up zone defense in the half-court. The D starts off in an extended 2-3 zone, where the guards are pressuring the ball, but has certain triggers that cause it to switch to man-to-man. One of the easiest ways to trigger the switch is passing the ball into the low-post area that causes one of the edges of the bottom of the 2-3 to collapse. In this case, bottom middle of the 2-3 (usually the center) calls the switch and the defense marks everyone but the guy standing in the shadow of the double team straight up. This instantly makes the traditional zone beating offensive scheme less effective and you typically have a big man trying to pass out of a double team to people that are being guarded man-to-man. If each defender doesn’t select the correct man to switch to, most notably the side of the zone that is opposite of the double team, it will result in an either an easy basket (if the top of the zone makes the error) or a wide open three (if the bottom of the zone makes the error) for the other team.
#3. Is Draymond Green the absolute engine? Meaning, if he's taken out of what he likes to do, if he's denied the ball and frustrated into bad shots/ decisions, is your offense screwed?
For us, that player is Peyton Siva. We have several players who can knock down the three. We have two pretty good big men who have really started to come on as options we can give the ball to, and trust to get a bucket. However, if Siva is frustrated into taking bad shots/ decisions we're screwed. He doesn't have to score for us to win, see the New Mexico game last night, but he does have to set the pace and find shooters and cutters.
#4. How deep is the Spartan's bench? I saw from your team stats that there are 8 players who average more than 17mpg, but I know that sometimes those things can be misleading.
IE: We have 9 players averaging more than 12mpg, but in actuality we only go about 6 deep with a 7th man who's been playing about 20mpg depending on foul trouble; and, an 8th man who has been playing more and more as he's gotten healthier, but still only gives us about 8-9mpg right now.
#5. I really like Tom Izzo, and from what I've seen of your team I love the passion and effort they give.
That said, I'm not going to say "good luck" cause I just wouldn't mean that s*&^. I will say that I hope the game is called fairly both ways, that the officials let them play, and that no team suffers an injury. Also, if the outcome is not to my liking I will be praying to God that Sparty makes it to New Orleans and gives the University of Kentucky a severe beat-down.
That is all.
Side Note: most of that defensive strategy stuff came from this fanpost over at the Card Chronicle, and it is a much more in depth description of the Pitino defense, and the evolution of it into what we know today. If you're interested.