How a missed blockout and a lucky carom helped KU take down Purdue
Normally this would be the time to look ahead to Kansas' next opponent, but with such a dramatic finish in KU's 63-60 victory over Purdue on Sunday, I wanted to go back to take a deeper look at the Jayhawks' critical defensive possession in the final minute.
Let's set up the situation. KU led, 61-60, with 23.3 seconds left. Purdue had the basketball after a KU timeout. Here's the cued-up video if you want to follow along.
After the game, Purdue's Robbie Hummel said the plan was for him to come off a screen to receive a pass. We can see from the video that Hummel is supposed to curl around Terone Johnson, who sets a ball screen for teammate Lewis Jackson first.
Something very important happens here: Notice that Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson switch on the original ball screen.
When Purdue had gone to a small lineup this season, most teams put their big man on Johnson, who was easier to guard from the perimeter (31-percent three-point shooter, 22 of 71) than the taller Hummel (38-percent three-point shooter, 72 of 188).
When KU switched in the second half to put Travis Releford on Hummel, Robinson was forced to guard the 6-2 Johnson.
This change forces KU away from its normal defensive principles. Instead of hedging on ball screens, KU — with its small lineup — is now switching all ball screens.
"It's just different," KU coach Bill Self said, "when you haven't practiced that way a ton."
Robinson is focused, though, and switches as he's supposed to. The bigger issue for KU is that this creates a mismatch, putting the point guard Jackson against Robinson, who is a foot taller but not nearly as quick.
Even with the mismatch, Purdue's plan is to get the ball to its best player, Hummel, on this final possession.
Hummel starts to come around the screen when he notices something: Releford is overplaying him defensively.
Releford anticipates Hummel's cut, so he tries to beat him around the screen to deny the ball.
In the middle of a play designed for him, Hummel reads the defense and calls his own audible.
He back-cuts Releford.
And for a few frames, he is wide open.
This is still a tough read for Jackson, who is expecting Hummel to come to the top of the circle to receive a pass.
When he doesn't see Hummel there, it looks like the point guard's instinct takes over, and in this case, that means doing what he does best: trying to drive the ball. Remember, he still has Robinson guarding him.
If Jackson would have looked up, he'd have seen an open Hummel. And if Jackson would've gotten the pass around Robinson, Hummel would have almost certainly had an uncontested layup, as Purdue's spacing would have made it nearly impossible for any of the Jayhawks to help on D.
Even though Hummel's snap decision left him open, the senior said he regretted it afterwards.
"I probably should have just come off the screen," Hummel said, "but he was on top of me, so I tried to back up for a layup."
Hummel described the next few seconds as a scramble.
With Jackson's timid drive cut off by Robinson, Hummel dashes to the perimeter to go get the ball.
When he receives it, Jackson makes a smart play and sets a quick ball screen for him to clear some space.
Remember how well Robinson did switching on the first ball screen above?
He's not as quick to react here. Robinson is late to get to the perimeter to help out Releford on the screen.
The result is Hummel getting off a clean shot on what, a few seconds ago, was a broken play.
"I got a pretty good look," Hummel said. "I thought it was going in. It felt good off my hand. It was just a little bit short. I thought Lewis did a very good job of finding me there, and that's on me to make that one. I just didn't make it."
One last interesting thing on this play: Notice that each KU player, because of Purdue's positioning on the perimeter, has good position for the defensive rebound. Tyshawn Taylor has inside position on Johnson, Conner Teahan has inside position on Ryne Smith and Elijah Johnson has inside position on D.J. Byrd.
Watch what happens, though. Taylor gets caught up in watching the shot and doesn't even attempt to box Johnson out.
With a running start, Johnson deflects the ball away from Teahan, who had kept good rebounding position by staying between Smith and the rim.
The deflected ball zips by Smith before making its way to Robinson.
And here's where Taylor's missed blockout becomes a blessing.
Robinson now has a clear lane to throw cross-court, as Terone Johnson has taken himself out of the play by (correctly) gambling to go for the offensive rebound.
Because Taylor didn't get inside position, that also means he has a head start on the rest of the Boilermakers down the floor. This gives him a two-step advantage for an uncontested dunk to put KU up three.
KU's defense definitely wasn't perfect on the above possession, but as you can see, a missed shot, a blown boxout and a good bounce ended up being enough to get the Jayhawks to the Sweet 16.