The offense will be the key tonight at Miami. How the Hoos handle the defensive strategy of Miami will determine whether Virginia successfully defends its shiny new #1 ranking or limps into the break on a 2-game slide shrouded in doubts. Miami will have a strategy. Virginia will have to diagnose it and adapt, something they did successfully against Florida State, but not against Virginia Tech. One of the keys to success will be paint touches.
Coaches track paint touches. They track paint touches because they know offense is more successful when the ball touches the paint in a possession. They devise defenses to prevent them and offenses to accomplish them. Outside shots go down more frequently when preceded by a paint touch. While breaking down the Tech game video, I tracked paint touches. Several thoughts emerged.
First, a matter of definition: I defined a paint touch as a player having possession of the ball either in his hands or on the dribble with both feet completely in the paint. This definition is my recollection of the one Buzz Williams used when it was talked about in a previous Virginia Tech game. Also, it has to be actually in the paint - a postup on the block next to the lane doesn't count.
In the first half, Virginia touched the paint on 6 possessions. The Cavaliers did not touch the paint at all on 18 possessions. On the 6 paint possessions, they scored 11 points. On the 18 unpainted possessions, they netted 13 points. When they touched the paint, the Hoos scored 1.8 points per possession; when they did not that fell to 0.72 ppp.
Virginia had two stretches of over 5 minutes without touching the paint.
Diving in a little further yields some interesting tidbits of information. I divided the first half into the Pre-Timeout and Post-Timeout segments. Pre-Timeout was before Buzz's time out at the 13:00 mark with UVA holding a 13-5 lead. In that part of the half, Virginia touched the paint 3 times for 5 points, and did not touch the paint on 6 possessions, but scored 8 points. After the time out, when Tech turned up its intensity markedly, Virginia touched the paint 3 more times for 6 points. No paint touches on 12 possessions and netted only 5 points.
We can delve a little deeper and see more how Virginia's lack of aggression on offense killed the offense. Two of the three Post-Timeout paint possessions were in transition. All 6 of the points came on those possessions. On the third, the ball went out of bounds after the paint touch and the offense was reset. After the reset, the ball never touched the paint and Kyle Guy missed a bad shot. So, really, the Post-Timeout halfcourt offense produced 0 paint touches and 5 points.
But wait, there's more. On one of the Unpainted Post-Timeout possessions, the ball and 1 foot went into the paint on a possession that produced 2 points. So on a less rigorous definition, that one would have been a paint touch possession.
The second half followed a similar pattern in that there were more paint touches and more non-paint touch scores in the first few minutes of the half. The Cavaliers touched the paint on three of the first seven offensive possessions and scored on 4 of those seven. For the entire half, Virginia touched the paint on 8 possessions and failed to touch paint on 16. The ratio of paint/non-paint was better this half: 1/2 as against 1/3. On the painted possessions, they scored 10 points for 1.25 ppp and on the unpainted they scored 13, for 0.81 ppp. The second half split was not as severe as the first half, but again, a deep dive sharpens the picture.
One unpainted possession saw Isaiah Wilkins receive the ball on the left block in a post entry then kick out to an open shooter. Not a paint touch, but a post touch. On a later possession, the ball went into the post and a layup was scored with one foot in the paint. Five of the 13 Unpainted points were scored on the functional equivalent of a paint touch, but definitions are definitions.
On the painted side, one of the possessions featured a paint touch in transition before the ball going out of bounds. After the inbounds, in the halfcourt set, no paint touch and no score. On another, the ball didn't hit the paint until the last second desperation drive into the paint for a heavily contested off-balance fling. So two of the four unsuccessful Painted possessions were functionally Unpainted.
If we were to switch out the functional equivalents, we would have 8 Painted possessions for 15 points (1.8 ppp) and 16 Unpainted for 8 points (0.5 ppp).
In the overtime, the offense touched the paint on one possession - and that came on the offensive rebound of an unpainted halfcourt set, when De'Andre Hunter rebounded Guy's miss and went to the rack for his acrobatic and-1. The other 3 pre-fouling offensive possessions did not touch the paint, and the Hoos scored one Devon Hall unassisted three-pointer.
Aggregating the numbers, Virginia touched paint on 15 possessions and failed to touch it on 37 possessions. The Hoos scored 24 of their points on Painted possessions (1.6 ppp) and 29 points on the Unpainted (0.78 ppp). That is before any further analysis and adjustment as we went through above.
Florida State used a strategy of pressuring the perimeter to take away the outside shots and disrupt the motion offense. Virginia adapted in the second half by spreading the floor, reducing congestion around the lane, and taking the Seminoles off the dribble. It worked.
Virginia Tech used a strategy of flooding the lane and filling gaps, daring the Cavaliers to shoot from the outside on perimeter passes. Virginia responded by ... walking the ball upcourt, dribbling around aimlessly for several seconds, desultorily tossing the ball around the perimeter to each other, and putting up a long jumper of variable quality. It ... didn't work. The most successful offensive tactic in that game was the post entry.
What approach will Miami take? The strength of their defense is in forcing turnovers. Their interior defense is fairly weak. That suggests they will pressure and go for steals. But then Virginia Tech's defensive strength was forcing turnovers and their interior defense was the weakest in the ACC and they won by completely reversing their tendencies. Will Miami play to its strengths, or try to copy Tech and see if they can likewise seduce the Cavaliers into shooting off from the outside without penetration?
If Miami does go for the Virginia Tech approach - packline lite - then you approach it like a zone and you have to have swift ball movement and purposeful player movement to force the defense to move and react, which will open the gaps. If they go for the Florida State approach - their base defense, really - you spread the floor and penetrate.
Four tactics that the Hoos use now and then can provide success, but they need to be done relentlessly and aggressively.
Post entry. Even though our post men are not great post scorers, they are pretty efficient when left alone to work on their defender, and we have actions that work off the post entry. If the help comes, we pass. Another action has the post man pass it back out then run from the block to set a ball screen on the arc. That action creates a lot of options and has been successful. We should be passing the ball into the post at least once every halfcourt set.
Pick and roll. Both Mamadi and Isaiah can catch and convert on the roll. Pick and roll should be combined with other actions. An isolated P-R is less effective. The pick creates a scramble situation that you can leverage if you anticipate the rotations and go into another action designed to force more rotation. You can end up with mismatches and open looks.
Take the damn baseline.
This last one is my pet peeve because we don't do it: iso. When you get a mismatch - like Kerry Blackshear on Devon Hall - get everyone else the hell out of the lane and away from the mismatch and let the man work. Some of the players will on their own attack a mismatch, but there's nothing in the system to find and attack them. We had numerous opportunities on Saturday to attack mismatches and we misplayed or ignored every one.
But most important is to attack with purpose and aggression. Make the defense move! Make it react! Confuse it. Find its weaknesses, then attack those.
The answer tonight will be on offense.