Buckeye Basketball Breakdown: The Screen Part 1

Jordan Taylor is ready to do bad things to your defense.

As you may recall, in last week’s Breakdown, I looked at one of the ways the Buckeye’s use to free up their three point shooters – collapsing the defense.

As hard as Saturday’s game was to stomach the first time around, it was even worse on the second viewing.  It’s just too bad that it had precisely the kinds of plays I wanted to look at for this week’s Breakdown.

However, we’re not going to spit in the face of adversity today.  We don’t stoop to such lows around here.  Instead we’re going to plow ahead with our heads held high.

And we should.  Ohio State played a spectacular ball game in the Kohl Center, and it was only through an incredible feat of athletics that the Badgers were able to pull out that game.  By the end of this article, I’m certain you’ll agree with me.

By the way, that feat of athletics happens to go by the name Jordan Tayler.  Just in case you were interested.

If you consider the stats of the game, the Buckeyes played lights out the whole day.  They outshot the Badgers 54% to 51% from the floor, out rebounded them 25-24, picked up 2 more assists, committed 2 fewer turnovers and 3 fewer fouls, and out shot the best free throw shooting team in the nation (and possibly in NCAA Basketball History) 87%-69% with 3 additional free throws.

On any other day, that’s a win.  But when you’re out shot 50% to 33% from beyond the arc, and the opponent takes 24 total three pointers (15 more than you do), you’re gonna have a tough time keeping up.  The guy who made that possible?  Jordan Taylor.

Did I mention you were going to be sick of his name by the end of this article?

It would be nice to know exactly how the Badgers went about systematically out shooting one of the best defensive teams in the country.  At least from beyond the arc.

The answer has to do with part of the strategy of the week that I was already planning on breaking down.  The Buckeyes fell prey to the on-ball screen.

Wisconsin has made a name for themselves shooting the three ball.  In fact, the last time that Wisconsin shot fewer than 10 three pointers was against Wofford in last year’s NCAA tournament.  That was also the only time in the last three seasons that it happened.  It’s no surprise, then, that shooting the three is simply what they do.

And when they decide to turn it on, boy do they ever.  But they suffer for it too, falling to the “live by the three, die by the three” philosophy of three point shooting more than anyone in the Big Ten.

During the game, OSU held a 15 point advantage and had taken the crowd out of the game.  The obvious answer for Bo Ryan was to go to the three point play and try to blow away the difference as fast as possible.  But how did they find open looks so easily?  Did the Buckeyes fail on defense?

The answer is: partially.  Wisconsin employed a very clever, but very basic, strategy to start that run and carry them into the victory.  By using an on-ball screen, Wisconsin was able to free up their shooter – often Jordan Taylor – for an excellent look at the basket.

The on-ball screen is a tremendously basic play.  In fact, it’s so easy that its one of the fundamental skills taught to younger players.  One offensive player sets up in the path of a defender, standing perfectly still.  The ball carrier brushes past his teammate, hoping to catch his defender on the screen and leave him behind.

It’s who you choose to set the screen with that provides a challenge.

Often in college basketball, the offense will choose the biggest guy on the court to set a screen.  There are several reasons for this.

1) Bigger mass is tougher to move, limiting the possibility of a moving screen foul.
2) It sets up the pick and roll, and play where the big man screens and then immediately rolls to the basket.  If done correctly, the ball handler feeds the ball to the open man under the basket.
3) It creates mismatches in the defense.

The third point is the most critical.  When defending the screen, the defense has three options.

1) Fight through the screen.  The defender moves between the screener and the man he is defending.

2) Move around the screen.  The defender dodges around the screener, trying to keep up with his man.

3) Switch off.  The guy defending the screener moves and begins to defend the ball handler.

The safest defensive play is the switch.  This usually leaves the ball carrier undefended for the shortest period of time, but it does mean that players are no-longer matched up with their natural assignments.  This tactic is widely used, and you will often see a ball screen on just about every half-court play for exactly the hope of creating a mismatch.

Wisconsin, however, got even more.  The Buckeyes responded to the Badger’s screens by trying to fight through.  This was done to prevent Sullinger from being left out on the arc defending a player faster than he is – such as Taylor.  Sullinger’s defensive assignment was to stick with his man and prevent the easy pick and roll that would occur if he switched with Craft.

Unfortunately, when the defender can’t fight through the screen, you end up with this.

You notice that Craft is completely out of position due to the tough screen he faced.  Sullinger doesn’t step forward to defend the shot, mostly because he’s horribly out of position on the screen.  There’s no way for him to help Craft out on the play in any meaningful way.

There’s no need to break that play down any further.  That sequence was a two man offense and two man defense.  Everyone else on the court might as well have been smoking cigars for all they were worth.

Ultimately, Jordan Taylor’s hot hand, coupled with a great strategy on the part of Bo Ryan, won the day for Wisconsin.  Had Taylor shot at his usual percentage (40%), he misses one or two of those three pointers.  That in and of itself completely changes the complexion of the game.

Given Jordan Taylor plenty of credit, he’s a clutch player that made the plays needed to win his team the ball game in the face of serious adversity.

Next time I will look at a similar strategy that the Buckeyes regularly use to free up Diebler on the outside: the off-ball screen.  Look for that later this week or early next week.


About Eric

Eric has been infiltrating enemy territory for the last 8 years, providing excellent intel from behind the Maize Curtain. You can find him on twitter @ErictBBC.