"To be honest, we got a lot of open shots - a lot of open shots we didn't knock down." - Devon Hall
How often have we heard opposing coaches and players say that after a game against Virginia? Every time? Hearing those words come out of Devon Hall's mouth after the Hoos threw up 38 threes just kind of capsulizes the story of this game. Virginia Tech seems to have stumbled on the way to beat Virginia - again. There are two ways to beat the Cavaliers: with a Hall of Fame coach and NBA first round draft picks, or by out-Virginiaing Virginia.
According to Coach Tony Bennett and the players, Tech "flooded the lane" and "got into the gaps," making it difficult to get into the paint. So the Hoos took all those open shots - the shots that were open because Tech wanted them to be taken. They dangled those "open looks" at Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome and Devon Hall the way Virginia has dangled them in front of the faces of opposing shooters since Tony Bennett brought his act to the JPJ. They dangled them because they are not good shots.
Shooting is all about seeing and feeling: see the rim and feel the stroke. Rhythm is a huge part of the feel. A shot is not truly good without both the sight and the feel. When a defense gives up a shot that the shooter can see but that he cannot feel, the defense has set a trap. Because he can see the rim, he thinks he has the shot. That's the easy part to detect. The feel is more subtle, more elusive. The feel is the part we can't really define or reliably create. We try to develop it through practice, "grooving" the shot with constant repetition, and it works to a degree. But the feel also comes from the game situation where the shot is taken. Game context can affect feel - in both ways - but the best shooters rarely let that negatively affect their feel.
Game situation also means location of the shot and action preceding the shot. Players have their "spots" and their "range." Shoot from too far out and the extra effort required to reach the rim tends to throw off the feel. Shoot from too close and the need to pull back on the force behind the shot can throw off the feel. For some unknown reason, players tend to have certain places on the floor where they just "feel it" more than others. When a player is shooting from one of his spots and within his range, he tends to feel the shot more consistently.
A smart defense knows the ranges and spots of its opponents and endeavors not to give shots from those locations on the floor. Make a guy shoot from a step farther out or to the left or right from his range or spot, and you can knock his percentage down. A good defensive game plan recognizes and plans for this. A good offensive game plan recognizes and plans for this. It's a chess game.
The action leading up to a shot also impacts the feel, and is, I believe, the primary manipulable variable in the feel equation. Shots coming off the right action are excellent shots and shots coming off the wrong action are bad shots - no matter how open they might be or what spots they come from. It is in manipulating the action creating the shot opportunity that three-point defense has its impact. That is where the PacklineTM works, and that is where Virginia Tech defeated Virginia and ruined this chance to be #1 (there will be more chances).
There are several actions that create good shots: inside-out, drive-and-kick, catch-and-shoot, and for some players off the dribble. These actions help put the shooter in a rhythm that helps "groove" the stroke while assisting with the force required to get the ball to the rim. Bennett's offensive system is designed to create the catch-and-shoot variety more than any other. Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes all feasted on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Devon Hall has been dining on them this year, and of course Kyle Guy is the inheritor of Harris' catch-and-shoot soul.
The other actions require getting the ball into the paint. Every coach on the planet knows that the paint is the key to winning the game. It is the line-of-scrimmage from football. Control it, win. Even in the age of the three-point shot, control of the paint is what wins games, because it is from the paint that the best three-point shots come. Get your shots out of the paint, you will hit a lot and win. Take shots without getting into the paint first, you will usually only hit a few and lose.
Buzz Williams devised a game plan that made it difficult to get into the paint - and difficult to generate good shots from doing so. They combined tagging Guy off the ball with sagging into the gaps and flooding the lane to cut off driving lanes. Rather than pressure the perimeter like Duke's man-to-man or Florida State, they played the gaps like we do. What they gave us was perimeter passes to stationary shooters.
And that's what we took. Perimeter passes to stationary shooters. Over and over, we pounded the ball into the floor, tossed the ball to the next guy over, who either pounded the ball into the floor then tossed it back or launched a shot, and watched them rebound the misses.
Perimeter passes to stationary shooters are what we typically give to opposing teams. We blow up their ball screen action, we load the gaps, we pressure the ball, we double the post, we do all these things to make getting into the paint damn near impossible and offer them an easy way out: just run back and forth near midcourt and pass the ball around the perimeter and take those "open shots." Why do we do that? Because we know those are shitty shots. The perimeter pass to stationary shooter is the worst shot in basketball.
We fell into the trap we set for opponents. That trap played off the fundamental design of our offense, our basic offensive philosophy and tendency: we take what the defense gives us. The basic system is a read-and-react system. All those screens we set off the ball, the mover makes a read: see what the defense does then take the option he gives you. And it can work great. It can be unguardable when it works. But like every read-and-react system it has the effect of ceding the initiative to the opponent, and any strategist knows that initiative is half the battle.
We don't attack defenses. We don't challenge them. Not habitually. Not by design. The meta-design is to work the defense into giving us something good. When we drive to the basket, do we attack the defender? No. It's why we don't go to the free throw line. And yesterday we did it writ large. The only way we were going to get into that paint was to attack the defense. Challenge it. Take a line and dare the defense to contest. Accept contact, create it and play off it. We didn't put forth the mental effort to do that. Instead, we just took what they gave us - a ton of "open shots."
We let one of the worst defenses in the league, the worst interior defense in the league, keep us out of the paint. If you didn't get into the paint against Virginia Tech, you didn't try. Even after that abomination, they have the 11th ranked defense in the ACC. They are 12th in 2FG% allowed and 15th in block percentage. We just finished playing Syracuse, Louisville, Duke and Clemson, the top interior defensive teams in the conference, all of whom we challenged the paint with more regularity than we did against the weakest interior defense in the ACC.
While uttering that line that makes me scoff and smirk when opposing coaches and players utter it in post-game press conferences - "we had a lot of open looks we just didn't hit them" - Bennett did acknowledge that we could have moved the ball better. Jay Bilas said it during one possession late in the game: you have to make the defense move. Most possessions we simply did not force the defense to react to anything. It was a reversion to last February with Ty Jerome taking the role of London Perrantes, pounding the ball into the floor until 10 seconds remained on the shot clock then trying something against a set defense. You're not going to get good shots doing that.
"If I were coaching, I would have taken my ass out." - Kyle Guy
On Twitter, I have seen a number of people chalk Guy's performance up to "an off night." It was not just an off night; it was the culmination of a season-long issue and recent trend. For the past couple of weeks I have had growing discontent with his shot selection, and his shot form. I have no problem with his number of shots - 14 three-point attempts is not outrageous for a shooter of the calibre he should be - but with the kinds of shots and the execution of the shots. He's taking a lot of bad shots, and his shooting form is extremely loose.
Guy has worked very hard on rounding out his game. He has made himself a very good defender. He has improved his ability to create off the dribble closer to the basket. He's gotten more forceful going in transition. But it appears he has done so at the expense of his three-point shot. His outside shot is, to be blunt, a mess.
During the off week I will present a video study of the issues I see with Guy's shot by comparing his shots from this past game to shots from last season that I think will show that he is taking shots outside of his range, that he has taken a freedom and turned it into a license with regard to shooting fundamentals, and that he has no real groove in his shot anymore.
At some point or multiple points in watching and analyzing each game lately I have found myself wondering if he is spending hours in the gym putting up hundreds of three-point jumpers like some of the other guys do, because it sure does not look like it to me. I have no information on what he does when he's not on TV and he very well could be doing that, so I'm not going to say or suggest or imply that he isn't, but I will say that I don't see any evidence of it during games. Watch Devon Hall and his stroke looks the same every time. Watch Kyle and you never know what his stroke is going to look like. A kid whose shot in high school and last year was one of the prettiest I'd ever seen, generally making me see Joe Harris at his best, now looks like a hack Jackson Pollock imitator throwing buckets of shit at the wall and hoping it creates art.
Kyle Guy has not had a single hot shooting game this season. By "hot shooting game" I mean a game where he hits a bunch in a row and doesn't have a stretch where he misses a few, a game where he goes 6-8, or 7-10, or 10-14, like you will see great shooters occasionally do. These are his best games:
5-9, 4-7, 5-9, 6-14, 3-4, 3-6, 3-6, 3-6, 5-11, 3-6, 3-6, 2-4, 4-11
A lot of good games in there. What I am talking about is a game you would call "hot." An exceptional game. I don't think 4 or 6 attempts are enough for that kind of game, unless maybe he went 6-6. That would be hot. That would be exceptional and meaningful. Going 3-6 or 2-4 is just one miss away from a poor shooting night.
Now here is another list of 3FG stat lines:
3-6, 3-6, 1-6, 5-11, 3-6, 1-7, 3-6, 2-6, 2-9, 2-4, 4-11, 3-10, 3-14
That's his ACC games. A lot of poor shooting nights in there. Last season he never had a game where he attempted more than 4 threes and hit fewer than 50% of them. This ACC season he has not had a game where he hit more than 50% of his threes.
Kyle Guy is not this season a great outside shooter. He's a good one.
My hope is that he will come back after the break with his outside shot. Tighten up the form, stop trying to beat close defense by rushing and flinging the ball, and stop taking stand-still shots.
Two hot shooting nights are all I am asking for. If we become more purposeful in our offense, consciously and determinedly attacking the defense and making the defense react to us, it can happen.
The PacklineTM and "Tabata"
Have you ever done a Tabata workout? Ever heard of it? Neither had I until I signed up at this local gym with my girlfriend in an effort to control nascent high blood pressure without medication, stomp out the belly before it turns its beachhead into an occupation, and remain the sexy ladykiller of my dreams. Before this morning, I never would have connected it with an analysis of Virginia Basketball. Now, upon reflection, I think it offers an analogy for the PacklineTM and our offense.
First, what I mean by "Tabata." This is my understanding of it from the workouts I have been proud of myself for surviving these last few weeks. If it is not quite correct, I beg forgiveness from the purists. The way we do it in the gym is by having a pattern of "burnouts" followed by "tabata." The "burnouts" are 30-second intense exertion followed by 30 seconds of rest. We do that twice. Then the "tabata" part is 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of rest. The 20-somethings in class can get their heart rate down in those 10 seconds and be ready for another 20-second burst. Me? Forget it. I have to skip a couple.
This pattern came to mind while thinking about the second half offense yesterday when all too often, Ty was walking the ball across the timeline at 22 and then basically dribbling it purposelessly until around 15-13, then initiating something. It so forcefully reminded me of last year and the offseason arguments about our defensive effort and pace that it suddenly took on a larger import in my mind. Maybe I was wrong in maintaining that working hard on defense did not necessitate being slow to initiate the offense and that guys should rest on the bench. Hey, Florida and South Carolina played intense defense and still attacked on offense.
But is the difference that our defense is a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout while even those tough defenses are regular workouts? The key to our defensive dominance is the continuous high-intensity effort. From the moment the other team gets the ball until we get it back, all five guys are at a constant high level of engagement and activity. Even if you're not in physical motion because the offense isn't moving around, your mind is in constant motion because you have to make the reads. But when an offense attacks quickly and keeps attacking, you're in that high intensity state for the entire defensive possession. It can be a 30-second "burnout" or a 20-second "tabata" session.
What happens after that session? The body demands a rest. It wants that 10 seconds after a tabata or 30 seconds after a burnout.
Our defense has been better and contributing to dominance more this year, in my opinion, because it has been creating more live ball turnovers that contribute directly to the offense. When we don't get turnovers we can turn into offense, then I think we have no alternative but to slow the pace and recover. It could be the built-in flaw that can sometimes be fatal.
None of this is to suggest that the defense is a "problem" or "why we can't win in March." For one thing, "UVA can't win in March" is horseshit. Anyone who says that is someone you should block from your feed because he's not going to say anything that will meaningfully contribute to your enjoyment of or growth in life. It's just a recognition that every team, every person, every system, has weaknesses and flaws built-in, and sometimes those are fatal. It means to say that "if and when we lose," this could be the reason why.
I think that in March, if we're going to have a defense where we will be having "burnouts" we have to lean on an offense that doesn't require an immediate "burnout" or "tabata." We need to start doing something that other teams do, that some of the better-coached teams have done to us: find, create and exploit mismatches. There is no way I am going to accept that with De'Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite and Nigel Johnson, we can't find one stinking mismatch in every game. Not to do every possession, but to do every time we need to. Maybe we just played 45 seconds of intense defense and we need a score now. We know we can get Hunter on a weak defender, so let's get that matchup, get everyone else the fuck out of the way, and let him go to work, following him up with one or two guys crashing the boards.
Go Hoos, let's get Miami! In the end, it was a game of little tangible meaning. The #1 ranking would have been nice, the streak was fun, beating the Hokies is always preferred, but all of that is just color. The Mission is intact.
Here we go!