As we’ve seen over the last three seasons, nothing ever comes easy for the Scarlet Knights men’s basketball program. After two losses last week, they will once again enter the final week of the regular season needing to take care of business to have any shot at dancing. Let’s take a look back at the week that was, starting with a road trip to Michigan.
I thought the Wolverines came up with a really good gameplan, using the pick-and-roll to attack Rutgers defense and get into the paint. It started with their first possession of the night.
A few possessions later, the Wolverines create a semi-transition opportunity with Caleb Houstan charging down the floor. He slows up and waits for the ball screen, but Paul Mulcahy and Cliff Omoruyi cross up the coverage and Houstan has a clear path to the rim.
Mulcahy tries to ice the screen, but instead of drifting back, Omoruyi remains locked onto Hunter Dickinson, creating the lane for Houstan. Poor defensive communication.
This next one is the rare possession where a defense gets burned by a PnR twice. First, Houstan sets a high ball screen. Mulcahy and Geo Baker get mixed up and Houstan rolls to the basket by himself. For whatever reason, DeVante Jones doesn’t deliver the pass and instead dribbles right into another PnR with Hunter Dickinson. Again, Mulcahy goes over the screen, Omoruyi stays latched onto Dickinson and Jones gets to the rim.
One more from the second half. Dickinson sets a high ball screen. Geo is actually positioned below Dickinson as things get going, but he still tries to jump over the screen. This effectively takes him out of the play as Jones again finishes with a layup.
I praised Michigan’s offensive gameplan earlier (and it pained me to do that), but I think they were just as good defensively. Specifically, in taking away some things that had been working for Rutgers.
Here are two good examples from back-to-back possessions. In the first, Geo gets a high ball screen and Michigan immediately traps it with a big. The Wolverines rotate to take away Cliff’s roll to the basket and Geo ends up forcing a contested 3-pointer.
In the second, Mulcahy uses the ball screen and gets trapped, which leaves Rutgers scrambling and eventually results in a long two from Cliff.
Towards the end of the first half, RU finally uses the pick-and-roll to generate a mismatch, and Caleb McConnell doesn’t take advantage, instead forcing a really bad shot.
Next up was Wisconsin on Saturday. And again, the Scarlet Knights had some problems with their pick-and-roll defense, leading to several good looks for the Badgers. It’s not just issues with execution, much of the time it stems from bad communication. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Late in the first half. Rutgers is trying to bring the crowd back to life after a slow start. Wisconsin goes to the high ball screen action. The first one is handled pretty well by the Knights, but on the second one, both Cliff and Caleb sag back to take away the roll, giving a good 3-point shooter a wide-open look.
Almost identical sequence on the next Wisconsin possession. The first ball screen is handled well, as Cliff rides Chucky Hepburn away from the basket. The Badgers pull it out and come back to the same action. Geo goes over the screen again, and Cliff allows Hepburn to turn the corner and get to the rim.
This next one comes with about 7 minutes left, and in my opinion, was the biggest shot of the game. Rutgers had just scraped and crawled back to take a 1-point lead, and the arena was buzzing. Wisconsin runs a similar action, with Steven Crowl first setting the screen on the left and then turning and getting another one on the right. Jalen Miller and Cliff Omoruyi both follow the ball-handler, and Crowl has an open pick-and-pop 3.
I mentioned Rutgers crawling their way back into the game, and that was due to the attacking mindset that they came out with after halftime. Geo Baker was almost non-existent in the first half, but started the second half with a renewed energy and a focus on getting into the paint.
Here are the first three RU possessions after the break.
The coaching staff clearly came out of the locker room with the goal of getting Geo involved, and give Geo credit for making some plays to get his team back in the game. The frustrating part, from a fan’s perspective, is that RU is only deciding to flip that switch in the second half, instead of bringing the attack-first mindset from the opening tip. You can’t slow-play the first 20 minutes against a good team.
Last thing from this one. Rutgers ran an action towards the end that I can’t remember seeing a lot, but I think it could be really effective moving forward. Needing a quick bucket, they run what I’m categorizing as a 2-man Spain PnR. Ron Harper Jr. appears to be coming up to set a ball screen, but instead stops and walls off his own defender. As Geo turns the corner, Harper runs out to the 3-point line for a wide-open look. Interesting play design to create a great shot in crunch time.
Keep an eye out to see if Steve Pikiell comes back to this later on.
Upcoming Week: @Indiana on Wednesday 3/2, vs Penn State on Sunday 3/6