Five plays that show how Releford shut down Bullock — and how KU's 'D' forced UNC into 'one bad shot'


Kansas guard Travis Releford watches as North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock heads to the bucket during the first half, Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Travis Releford watches as North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock heads to the bucket during the first half, Sunday, March 24, 2013 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Before looking ahead to Kansas' game against Michigan, I wanted to take a look back at Kansas guard Travis Releford's defense against North Carolina's Reggie Bullock in the Jayhawks' 70-58 victory over the Tar Heels on Sunday.

Bullock, who led UNC in scoring during conference play at 14.9 points per game, finished with five points on 1-for-7 shooting and 1-for-4 shooting from three.

His three-pointer and two free throws both came on plays when he wasn't guarded by Releford.

"That kind of effort on one of our best players," UNC guard Marcus Paige said, "is really one of the main factors in the game."

Afterwards, when asked about Releford, Bullock said it was "one of the best defenses I've played against."

"He did his film work," Bullock said. "He took me out of my game."

Here are four plays showing how Releford did it.

Let's start by talking about Bullock's tendencies: The 6-foot-7 small forward (No. 35) came in as a 44.3-percent three-point shooter while relying almost entirely on teammates to get those shots. According to, 94 percent of his three-pointers were assisted, meaning — like KU's Ben McLemore — Bullock is primarily a spot-up shooter.

Only 20 percent of Bullock's shots this season were two-point jumpers, so the biggest concern for Releford would be getting out to the perimeter to prevent three-pointers.

We can see Releford playing to Bullock's tendencies starting with this clip from the second half (the YouTube video is posted below as well if the GIF is too hard to see).

UNC sets two screens for Bullock, and notice that Releford goes on the high side of both, running around them toward the perimeter instead of trailing Bullock along the baseline.

If Bullock were more of a threat to drive (or if Releford had not been playing scouting report), Bullock might not be defended this way on screens. Against Bullock, though, Releford is selling out to get to the perimeter. Notice how Releford doesn't hesitate to push around the screens towards the left side of our screen — and notice also how he never gets "stuck" on a screen either, taking a couple of blows while still moving toward Bullock.

At first Bullock thinks he's open and elevates to shoot before realizing Releford is right there. At the last second, he passes it to James Michael McAdoo.

McAdoo attempts to free Bullock again with a screen, but Releford fights over the top to contest the off-balance jumper.

"When I was coming off screens, he was there with me every time," Bullock said. "He was sliding right through the screens. He was just being aggressive and trying to beat me on the catch every time I caught the ball."

Releford was disciplined to stay with Bullock when he didn't have the ball as well.

Here's the clip of Bullock's only three-pointer. Releford and Elijah Johnson had switched after a screen earlier in the possession, and when McAdoo drives, Johnson takes a step into help.

This is a mistake, and McAdoo makes Johnson pay for it. The UNC big man dishes out to Bullock, who bounces in the open three.

Notice what Releford does in a similar situation in the second half when Paige starts to drive around KU's Naadir Tharpe.

Instinct would tell Releford to help here, and on many defensive assignments he would.

Releford is locked in, though, and he doesn't make any move away from Bullock.

Because an open Bullock three-pointer would be considered a success for UNC on almost every possession, Releford stays on Bullock to prevent that shot.

As we see, Paige loses the ball going up, and KU ends up with a steal.

There's another reason it was tough for Bullock to get open looks, and you'll start to see it with this next play.

Here, Releford once again fights over the top side of a ball screen, which guarantees Bullock isn't able to get some space for a three behind McAdoo.

Going over the top of a screen is dangerous, though, because it oftentimes can leave the defense using two defenders to guard a ball-handler.

This isn't an issue for KU, though, because of who's setting the screen. McAdoo is not a threat to receive a pass and shoot it from the outside (two three-point attempts all season) and he's also not a particularly good jump-shooter (45-percent two-point percentage).

These characteristics allow Withey to "soft hedge," meaning he can hang back a few feet to simply keep himself between Bullock and the basket should Bullock decide to drive.

With Releford preventing the three and Withey preventing the drive, Bullock passes to McAdoo, who drives to the rim.

Earlier in the week, UNC coach Roy Williams talked about KU being a great defense because it doesn't necessarily try to take the ball away from you, but it tries to limit you to one bad shot.

This is an example. KU's defense has forced UNC from a shot it wants (44-percent three-point shooter taking a three) to a shot that KU wants it to take (45-percent two-point shooter taking a shot over the 7-foot Withey).

McAdoo's attempt misses, and KU secures the defensive rebound.

Here's another example of KU dictating the shot that UNC gets.

Releford goes over the ball screen to stay close to Bullock and Withey soft hedges, which forces Bullock to pass it to the screener Leslie McDonald.

McDonald fires away from 18 feet against a recovering Withey, and KU trades a potential 44-percent shooter taking a three-pointer for a 32-percent two-point jump shooter taking a mid-range shot.

KU's defense wins. One bad shot.

Here's one final example of this, which also shows some strong team defense from KU.

Releford gets caught briefly on McAdoo's first screen, and when McAdoo re-screens, Releford once again fights over the top.

Withey sees Releford is caught up a bit on the screen, so he hedges harder out to perimeter to make sure Bullock can't get up a three-point shot.

Here, Bullock makes a nice play, bouncing a pass to McAdoo, who makes a strong cut to the rim.

Notice what happens, though. Seeing the play in front of him, KU forward Kevin Young slides over to help on McAdoo*, which gives Withey time to recover.


Young by Jesse Newell

The result is a blocked shot and subsequent fast-break opportunity for KU.

* — This also reminds me of what Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper said after Friday's game about KU's defense. Harper said his biggest frustration was that his team started to drive to score against KU, when to beat the Jayhawks, you have to drive to dish.

Take another look at the photo with Young helping out Withey above.


Young by Jesse Newell

Notice No. 15 on the wing? That's Young's man P.J. Hairston — a 39-percent three-point shooter.

This is exactly what Harper is talking about. If McAdoo drives to dish instead of driving to score, UNC has the opportunity for an open shot from one of its best shooters.

The ball-screen challenges for KU against Michigan will be different. Not only does Michigan have an All-American point guard in Trey Burke, it also has a player like Nik Stauskas who is dangerous setting screens then popping back to the perimeter for open threes.

In the UNC game, though, KU's defense was able to take away one of UNC's best scoring options thanks to relentless — and smart — defense from Releford.

"When I watched them earlier this year, and even back when I was being recruited by them, you just notice how hard he plays," Paige said of Releford. "You've got to respect a guy like that that doesn't stuff the stat sheet, but at the end of the game, he's making winning plays."


ParisHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

The big national publications should have analysis of this quality! Luminous explanation!

How important is coaching and playing to the scouting report?

Ashwin Rao 9 years, 8 months ago

Love the analysis! I enjoy the game of Basketball, but seeing an analysis such as this makes it evident that there is so much science in the game! Thanks for posting!

Page Butler 9 years, 8 months ago

I enjoyed this breakdown very much. Thank you for the informative post.

panalytic 9 years, 8 months ago

Way to step it up for the tournament Jesse! You have to slow it way down for some people like me. That comment by the opposing coach Harper would have gone mainly unnoticed since I could not understood the full meaning. Great work and keep it coming!!

REHawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Terrific article, Jesse. Will really help me to see and to understand more comprehensively what I am seeing.

rtwngr 9 years, 8 months ago

Kudos on your article. Fans hear these topics discussed but rarely explained. Great job on this story.

Rock Chalk 9 years, 8 months ago

We are so fortunate, Jesse, to have you. Really great work. Impressive.

Woody Cragg 9 years, 8 months ago

Travis is the toughest defender I can recall game in & game out, since Bill's been the sheriff. D is the key to advancing past Michigan. Make it ugly for the spot shooters & we win the game in the paint. And one is as good as a hundred. We make this a B1G game & it's ours. Good stats Jesse, thanks for the lastest edition of the Newell Post.

thmdmph 9 years, 8 months ago

Very nice indeed. Being a spoiled KU fan, can't wait to see Jesse's scouting reports before each games as well.

jgkojak 9 years, 8 months ago

Channel 5 always runs tournament specials, and they are so superficial- they should do this kind of in-depth analysis of the video - way to go.

justanotherfan 9 years, 8 months ago

This is an excellent article highlighting the difference between just playing the X's and O's and actually playing towards skills and tendencies. The normal rules of defense dictate help on the drive from the wing to force the kick out, but, as this article shows, against the better shooters, the best play is to help only if you are helping off poor shooters, as open three pointers are much more dangerous than partially challenged lay-ups.

JS82 9 years, 8 months ago

Tremendous article! When viewing Releford in "real time" you just don't see how great he is and how they work together so well as a team to support each other defensively. Send these videos to Charles Barkley and have him explain it to us on the pre-game. Now that would be hilarious!

Phil Leister 9 years, 8 months ago

Awesome. Stuff like this makes me wonder why Keegan wins awards but Jesse doesn't.

Joe Ross 9 years, 8 months ago

Jesse...last one is a bad example. It really amounts to lack of recognition by UNC. When driving to the basket, Kevin Young cheats over to help. This leaves his man wide open behind the arc. Had the driver kicked it over to him, he would have had forever to set his feet and can a trey. This is exactly the situation you pointed out was wrong with Elijah in an earlier video, and compared with Releford to show how he stayed at home to guard his man. Had Young stayed home on his man, the play in the final video may not have turned out the same way.

What do you think?

Joe Ross 9 years, 8 months ago

...look at the still photo you posted, highlighting Young's help defense. His man is as lonely as a Maytag repairman from 3-point land.

JHawkingIllini 9 years, 8 months ago

Actually they are good examples.

Elijah made the mistake by helping on the drive because Withey was there to defend the drive. That would have been a contested layup over Withey which is a bad shot.

In Releford's example, he did not help as Withey was there all along and again it is better to give up a contest layup vs a wide open 3.

In the Kevin Young example, Withey is not there in the paint to stop a layup. If Young doesn't help in the paint, it is a wide open layup or dunk. You are still better off stopping a wide open layup and giving up a wide open 3.

The key in helping on the drives is knowing where Withey is. Stick to shooters if Withey is patrolling the paint and let them try to shoot over him.

9 years, 8 months ago

Jesse addresses it...

"Notice No. 15 on the wing? That's Young's man P.J. Hairston — a 39-percent three-point shooter.

This is exactly what Harper is talking about. If McAdoo drives to dish instead of driving to score, UNC has the opportunity for an open shot from one of its best shooters."

Joe Ross 9 years, 8 months ago

Good point. I was reading for explanation in the text and missed the caption.

Jesse Newell 9 years, 8 months ago

jross — Good question, and I think JHawkingIllini covers it well. Johnson's help is unnecessary, as it's leaving UNC's best three-point shooter to help stop a drive that is already being defended decently by Withey. Young, however, steps in to prevent a layup. If the choice is between KU allowing a sure two or a maybe three, the maybe three is the better option. KU also might have different helping rules for Hairston as opposed to Bullock, who is a better three-point shooter.

Joe Ross 9 years, 8 months ago

JHawkIllini...on all 3 plays Withey started out defensively at the high post. He was in the same position on each play.

Dale Stringer 9 years, 8 months ago

IMHO, the last one is actually a real good example of great defense. We have Young sliding in to help Withey on the inside against McAdoo. One the far side, either Elijah (or Ben, I can't tell) is one-on-one with his man, who is probably their best 3pt shooter. The other three UNC players are spread pretty evenly at the top of the key and at each wing. Our other two players, Nadir and Travis switched to basically playing a 2-man zone defense on the 3 spreadout UNC guys. If McAdoo dishes right to #15, Nadir takes him and Travis cheats toward the top guy. The opposite would happen if McAdoo dishes left. If Elijah's guy was on #15's side, the other wing guy would be wide open too. Notice too that Nadir and Travis are a half step closer to #15's side since they do have Elijah other the other.

justme33 9 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the great article and not just because it highlights my favorite player. I have often wondered how much of our great coaching with BS is the great scouting that he receives and his ability to relay this information and have our athletes carry off the intended corrections.

jaybate 9 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, Jesse, you've been growing up on us for awhile.

You just out grew us.

Never stop growing.

Jonathan Allison 9 years, 8 months ago


Thanks for posting the .gif clips.

Please continue proving the .gifs for your breakdowns and analysis. Youtube is blocked on my corporate network.

Alex Staley 9 years, 8 months ago

Haha Jesse, I think the people have spoken. We love this analysis. This could be a weekly piece for you. While I sympathize with plasticJHawk, I found the YouTube clips to be more useful. If providing both is easy enough, have at it.

Tuskin 9 years, 8 months ago

Wow, Jesse. Just wow. Great stuff.

And wow, Travis. You always put up so much defense to drool over. I couldn't keep my eyes off your defense during our last K-State game! Just, wow!

DanR 9 years, 8 months ago

Great analysis, Jesse, although I think you're being generous in that last example calling McAdoo's shuffling at the top of the key a "re-screen." Call it what it is: an illegal screen!

Dan Pawlowski 9 years, 8 months ago

Awesome analysis. Something tells me that in the future we will have to tune into a national platform to enjoy Jesse's insight.

Dan Pawlowski 9 years, 8 months ago

Oh yeah. One more thought. Travis's defense definitely Rocks The Chalk!

paducahawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Going through these analyses is so much better than watching clips on the KU Football defense giving up TD after TD on Saturdays. . .

Thanks for both, Jesse.

Ryan Kruse 9 years, 8 months ago

Kudos Mr. Newell for an impressive breakdown, nicely done

Ken Harms 9 years, 8 months ago

Great work, Jesse. I haven't seen some of these comments from Paige and Bullock yet. What article/interview were their comments from?

Jesse Newell 9 years, 8 months ago

They were from my own interviews. I went into the UNC locker room after the game and asked them both about Releford's defense. The NCAA requires open locker rooms, which is a gold mine for these types of stories.

Ken Harms 9 years, 8 months ago

Very nice. Much more evaluation than might usually be expected for the situation.

Steve Zimmerman 9 years, 8 months ago

You know, Jesse. This shows how capable you are as a deep bball analyst. This is good.

But this article is so deep, you exposed our team's secret to just about anybody. That's bad. I would rather see you peel off the enemy's onion skin than ours. You're helping them to get inside our territory - that makes you a very valuable person to them.

deepind 9 years, 8 months ago

Oh please! Come on... :) If Jesse can break it down for us, you don't think a Top 10 Div 1 coach cannot? Any coach watching the tapes will be able to break down any team's strengths and weaknesses!! The devil is not exactly in the details but in the execution of the game plan and sticking to the scouting report. You Releford is the only one watching the tapes? No, he is the only one that executes to near perfection.

Brian Gress 9 years, 8 months ago

This is also why having fifth year seniors on the floor is so valuable. All teams have detailed scouting reports and all players watch film. As a player becomes more experienced, they are generally better at implementing the game plan and understanding what to do. They don't have to think about it as hard because they drilled what to do.

Mister_Dojiman 9 years, 8 months ago

First rate analysis Jesse. Very high quality piece of work by you. Don't ever deviate from the high standard you hold yourself to.

mejayhawk 9 years, 8 months ago

Alternate Headline: "How Releford Consistantly Fails to Flummox on Defense"

actorman 9 years, 8 months ago

I'll echo what so many others have said: Jesse, this is journalism at its finest, and Jayhawk fans are lucky to have you.

Thanks for enlightening those of us who aren't experts.

mandomax 9 years, 8 months ago

this is just beautiful work, jnewell. Thanks again for this and all of your analysis all season. Once this tournament draws to a close, I'll miss your bball stories as much as I miss watching this team.

MrPhogtastic 9 years, 8 months ago

I wish you would do something like this and the OSU breakdown more often. Good read.

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