Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bill Self: Zone defenses not without merits


Bill Self, who preaches in-your-face, man-to-man defense, isn’t against implementing the triangle-and-two, box-and-one or even a 3-2 zone if it helps win basketball games.

“Sometimes you do (want to show teams a different look),” said Self, Kansas University’s 11th-year coach, who most of the time prefers a stingy man alignment.

“Coach Krzyzewski (Mike, Duke) has won a lot of games, and he will never do it (play zone). Bob Knight won a lot of games, and he never did it. Eddie Sutton won a lot of games, and he never did it. Mr. (Hank) Iba won a lot of games, and he never did it. That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong.

“Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) has won a ton of games and never plays man. One time he played man was against us. We totally destroyed their zone. We were up 14 in Kansas City ... he goes man-to-man the last 14 minutes and comes back and beats us (89-81, Nov. 25, 2008). After the game he said, ‘We don’t even practice that.’ That made me feel better,” Self added sarcastically.

Self knows why some teams — including Georgetown on Saturday in KU’s 86-64 victory — have been going to the zone against his squad early in the 2013-14 season.

“I think it’s smart coaching,” he said. “Teams are trying to make us think because we are so young. Florida ... their strategy was, ‘Switch defenses because they’ll have a hard time in a hostile environment being able to pick things up.’ We’d never been in that situation before.

“Colorado did the same thing. New Mexico did the same thing (as did Georgetown on Saturday). We’re getting good experiences going against some teams switching things up and making us think out there as opposed to somebody just playing man or zone all the time.”

Though he understands the effectiveness of the zone, Self will never use it a lot.

“I think if you ask 100 coaches, 80 would say, ‘If we could really guard, I wouldn’t play anything else (but man),’” Self said. “That’s what we have to get back. Last year’s team was 36.1 (percent field-goal defense). We’ve been in the top 10 in field-goal-percentage defense nine times in 10 years, and one year we were awful: We were 12th in the country. It is our staple, our identity.”

Toughness: Self was asked to pinpoint the “toughest” team he’s coached in 11 seasons at KU.

“I don’t know. I’ll try to think back. Last year’s team wasn’t the most talented, but they were pretty tough. Our defense was tremendous last year,” Self said of a 31-6 Big 12 champion/NCAA Sweet 16 team that allowed 61.9 points off 36.1 percent shooting. KU outrebounded foes an average of 39.2 to 32.9.

“We’ve had other ones. I thought maybe the year after we won the national championship ... that was a tough team,” he added of the 2008-09 Jayhawks who went 27-8, won the league and also lost in the Sweet 16. That squad allowed 65.4 ppg off 38.3 percent marksmanship.

“The team that went to the national championship and got beat (by Kentucky) was a tough team,” Self stated of the 2011-12 squad that went 32-7 and again won league.

“Hopefully this team will get there. The talent level is as good or superior to a lot of those teams.”

Spots for shots: Self has noticed a difference between the veteran squad of 2012-13 and this much younger edition in 2013-14.

“Last year, we knew where our shots were coming from. We still don’t know how we’re going to score, where the shots are going to come from,” Self said in reflecting on KU’s play heading into Christmas break.

A year ago, he had Ben McLemore, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford doing damage from the wing and Jeff Withey taking care of the inside en route to a 31-6 record.

This year, Andrew Wiggins is a prime candidate to lead the outside brigade with Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid becoming likely go-to guys on the inside.

“It’s going to take a while. I said all along it’s a process,” Self said.


Tony Bandle 8 years, 4 months ago


1] Funny..I can't think of one odd thing to odd is that?

2] It appears KU's most successful formula against the zone is guard/forward penetration in the middle then lob to the baseline when the defense comes up to help.

3] I totally agree with Self about toughest team...when you come within a few baskets of upsetting the greatest college team in awhile for the NC with Conner Teahan as your first guy off the bench, you ARE a very tough team!!

4] Kelly Oubre is coming because Andrew Wiggins is leaving. Cliff Alexander is coming because Tarik Black is leaving. Who is coming if/when Joel Embiid is leaving?

5] Put it down from Oak..number 1 will be wearing Crimson and Blue next season.

6] Best Christmas movie ever?? Toss up between A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. [My vote goes to Xmas Vacation with the Bev DeAngelo shower scene].

7] Best animated Christmas special?? Toss up between A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.[My vote goes to Rudy because of the elf dentist].

8] Merry Christmas to all you guys and gals who read and post and all you guys and gals who read and don't post or post elsewhere. let's hope 2014 brings the promise of peace and brings all of our fighting men and women home.

Aaron Paisley 8 years, 4 months ago

In regards to Xmas Vacation, the actor who played Russ currently plays Leonard on Big Bang Theory.

Kent Richardson 8 years, 4 months ago

I response to 1) Yes it is pretty odd. I love it when coaches go through a list of peers and mentors and one person is always elevated above such as Mr. Iba showing a special level of respect.

Stéphane Roque 8 years, 4 months ago

Does anyone else feel a little relieved to know that HCBS is being very open-minded to the possibility of changing up the defense if need be? Many coaches, especially guys from the old school, tend to be very stubborn in their ways of defense. Good to know our we have a coach that will swallow some pride if/when the time comes.

Kye Clark 8 years, 4 months ago

While you can't argue with Self's track record regarding defense - regularly a top 10 defense in the country - it's the "if need be" that doesn't make it feel complete. "If need be" - that means one of two things (to me): 1) someone is in foul trouble and we are playing zone to protect that player from picking up additional fouls, or 2) we are getting torched in M2M defense and we are basically forced to try something else. Neither of those situations is a good one for our 'hawks.

What I would like to see is a little bit more of using zones (and presses & traps) as a change-up. Give the other team a different look. It's like baseball - you can't throw the same speed in the same location all the time or eventually they'll figure you out. Let me give you an example: say it's a tie game, 15 seconds left, and the other team has the ball and has called a time out. When the other team is diagramming a play, the opposing coach might be saying "when we pass it here and run this action, we'll get one of their bigs to hedge. They've been doing it all game. Now let's use that to our advantage...". Predictable right? Now imagine after that time out the other team in-bounds the ball and we're set up in a 1-3-1 zone. Now maybe it works and maybe it doesn't, and you have to practice zone to be good at it. But that would be just one, very specific situation. I'd like to see it for a possession or two every half, just to try and keep teams out of their comfort zone.

I get it. M2M is the defense of tough guys & tough teams. Zone defense is for lazy teams. And at the end of the day, Self wants to know his team won running their stuff; that they went out there and said "I'm telling you we're playing you man-to-man all game long, I'm literally giving you my defensive strategy, and you still won't be able to score on us". It's ego. And again, you can't argue with the numbers; the man knows how to consistently put a tough defense on the floor. I'm just always a fan of having as many tools in your bag as possible.

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