When watching a game or looking at statistical trends, we might figure out one or two ways to slow down Wisconsin's half-court offense or score against Florida's multiple defenses. But that's obviously not the whole story. But what about the guys who get paid to break down that stuff; what are they thinking?
During the regular season, we broke down eight potential title contenders, one each week since mid-January. Of course, only one of those teams reached the Final Four. With the four national semifinalists now set, though, it's time for an in-depth scouting report on each team. I will talk to four or five coaches who played those teams this season, and get in-depth insight into each team.
Can Connecticut win it all? Why is Florida the favorite? And what about Kentucky and Wisconsin? We'll find answers to each of those questions, and much more.
Style of play
"Defensively, they're extremely physical. It's really hard to score in the half-court. You have to make 3s, because you get nothing at the basket. Sometimes they press to turn you over, sometimes they press to slow you down and use shot clock. But you'll get pressed all game. They have three different defenses out of timeouts: 1-3-1, 2-3, man. They ran all three against UCLA, and UCLA seemed a little surprised. So they can steal a few possessions with that. They'll try to play really fast in transition. [Scottie] Wilbekin is the key to everything. He has a lot of responsibility offensively, scoring. Then they set multiple ball-screens every possession. You have to figure out how you're going to guard [Michael] Frazier, [Casey] Prather and [Dorian] Finney-Smith off the kick. You can't help off those guys. Figure out how you're going to handle ball-screens. Then they have rim-runs with Patric Young, who's obviously a monster inside. They run staggered ball-screens, slip ball-screens. If you don't have your ball-screen defense set, it's tough."
“Offensively, what sets them apart is their pace of play. Everyone runs ball-screens, motion, things like that. You can tell your guys to down this ball-screen, switch this ball-screen, but they do it so fast, they run their ball-screen motion so fast. Defensively, it's how many defensive rotations they make in one possession. Every defense is going to have a breakdown, and they make multiple defensive rotations in one possession. It's amazing.”
“I would look at it two ways. Defensively, they slow the game down on you. They go deep in the shot clock. Their tempo in advanced metrics is very slow, but that's from a defensive perspective. Offensively, they're as quick as anyone. In transition, in the half-court, they execute at a high-level. So you almost have to speed the pace when they're on defense. And then you're on defense, you have to slow them down.”
“I just think they're very well-coached, they won't beat themselves ever, and if you're going to beat them, you have to beat them. They're effective and efficient on both ends of the floor. They maybe don't have that individual top-five draft pick type of guy, but they've got a great basketball team. [Michael] Frazier is a guy that can make 3s, [Scottie] Wilbekin hits big shots, and I just think they're a team that does not beat themselves. That's a direct reflection on Billy Donovan. They're just a good team. It's not all about individual talent.”
"They really offensive rebound. Finney-Smith comes off the bench and rebounds three offensive rebounds a game. They set so many different ball-screens. Frazier is huge. He's the X-factor. The 3-point line is the X-factor. I don't know if you can beat them if they're making 3-point shots."
“First, Wilbekin. I know [Casey] Prather is their leading scorer, but the guy that makes them go is Wilbekin. He's so good at reading off ball-screens. The other thing is when Patric Young gets post touches, either off offensive rebounds or when they throw him the ball inside. And they run. We were surprised by it. They get out in transition, and they have multiple guys who can handle the ball. Dorian Finney-Smith can handle and he plays the three-four. Prather, Young, Wilbekin all run. What makes it harder is when [Kasey] Hill and Wilbekin are in together. We have a guy who takes the point guard in transition, but you don't know which one will bring up the ball. Hill is a problem in transition.”
“Their balance is their strength. That's the number one key. They have five guys or however many in double figures. They have the ability to beat you in so many different ways with different personnel. Billy attacks mismatches. He identifies who he wants to attack, and he's got the personnel to do it. They don't shoot the ball as well as they have in the past, outside of Frazier and Scottie is a timely shooter. That's what they're not spectacular it. But they're solid at everything, and they're a really good offensive rebounding team.”
“They're really good at floor-spacing. They do a good job with that. And they do a really good job with ball-screening actions with Wilbekin. Pro-style ball-screening. Not everyone sees it on a regular basis.”
"Wilbekin is their most valuable player. He can shoot it, he makes free throws, he doesn't turn it over. He's pyhsical on defense. He uses ball-screens, he passes off ball-screens, he makes pocket passes, he can pass back, he can skip it to the corner. He's the ultimate quarterback."
“I think it's Wilbekin. Nothing bothers him. You can trap this ball-screen, hedge it, go under it. No matter which way you play it, he adapts. The second thing he's a tough SOB. He's got some toughness to him. Late clock, late game. They'll do something that involves Frazier, with ball-screen action, but Wilbekin has the ball.”
“That's tough. Those seniors are so important. I guess Wilbekin at the end of the day, because of his ability to impact the game. Young is phenomenal at rebounding and defensively, but Wilbekin makes plays at both ends. He's the head of the snake. I don't know if there's a guy in the country that takes what the defense gives him better than Wilbekin. He always makes the right decision and the right play. He's that important. With Kasey Hill playing 24 minutes per game, he's the guy who's actually on the ball – but when it's time to make a play, Wilbekin has it.”
“I think Wilbekin is a big key for them. He's just very effective for them. He's just good. He runs their show, he makes big shots. He always hits big shots. He's their go-to-guy, no question about it.
"I would say because they only shoot it from two spots, those guys having an off-night shooting the ball. If that happens, you can maybe zone them or pack it in. But you have to be careful because Frazier is the SEC's leading 3-point shooter. But when he comes out, maybe you can do it."
“Probably depth, but that was before [Chris] Walker. Besides that, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only guys who can make shots. Teams have played them zone a couple times, and it's not like it was great zone defenses, but they weren't making shots.”
"If you can call it a weakness, it's 3-point shooting. But they're second in the league in 3s attempted and fourth in 3s made. But I would say consistent shooting outside of Michael Frazier. That's why teams zone them.”
“They don't have that one individual guy that can just overtake a team. You know, a guy where, if you needed buckets, he can automatically get you buckets. They say to win a national championship, you need three pros. I don't know if they have three pros. Wilbekin is a good college guard.”
How to stop them
"You have to figure out personnel on the defensive end. How are you going to deal with all their ball screens? We switched one through four. It neutralized those guys driving. But then we got crushed on the glass. Becuase those guys crashed the glass. We got smashed on the switch. It's pick your poison."
“First and foremost, you have to keep them out of transition. Second thing is you have to switch ball-screens one through four, because they get so much stuff on pick-and-pop action. It's not necessarily shooting all the time, but they can get drives with Dorian Finney-Smith and those guys. And the third thing is, if you have a good zone, you can play it. You have to switch and play the gaps with the dribble-drive. You don't switch for pass denial, you switch to prevent dribble-penetration. You have to switch and be packed.”
“Probably zone, but it depends on your personnel. They're going to pick on your weakest defender. They'll put you in rotations, but you have to mix in some zone. When playing man, it's personnel-based. It's difficult for a team like Tennesese that has two bigs, to switch one through four. Last year's team you had to because of [Erik] Murphy. I wouldn't say you have to switch it this year. Their defense starts their transition; they put you in so many late-clock situations. So you're taking bad shots or you're turning it over. And then Prather is the best finisher in the SEC; he's great in transition. And Frazier runs the floor, looking for 3s. It's pretty easy to find out why they're so good in transition.”
“If you have quite a few turnovers, you're not winning. You have to have low turnovers, can't give them second chances. They get up and down in transition, and in the end, they're just really sound. Frazier can really shoot it. Wilbekin can shoot off the dribble, but when Frazier's feet are set, he's really good. He gets looks, and he can knock down three or four. He's as good a shooter as there is in the country.”
Best way to score on them
"If you have good guards, you can attack them in the press. Don't set up. Once you beat the press, teams mess up by pulling it out. Don't let them get their half-court defense set. If you have good guards and multiple ball-handlers, break their press and keep attacking. Get stops and rebounds, and because they're so used to pressing, they don't get back great. Because they're used to staying up. So maybe you can beat them in transition. If you have a pick and pop five, maybe you can beat them in the half-court. You have to be able to make shots. You're not getting anything at the rim."
“You have to score in transition. Those guys crash. Frazier, Prather, [Will] Yeguete, Young – and one of their guards is usually at the rim because of the dribble-penetration. So you can run. Secondly, you have to be patient. If you're one of those teams that like to score early, that won't work. It has to be multiple passes, multiple cuts. You're not going to break their defense down in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock. If you're a team that takes contested shots with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, it's a recipe for a loss. You have to have a team that can grind it out.”
“It starts with their bigs. In my opinion, Patric Young should be the defensive player of the year in the league. If not, it's Yeguete or Wilbekin. Their bigs are as good at communicating and as good rotating as anyone in the country. They're outstanding. They're the captains of the defense. You have to be quick-hitting. You can't go into the half-court and just execute. They take you out of your sets and actions. It has to do with your personnel, but when going inside, you have to be patient. Can't jack up quick jump shots. When I say quick, I mean you create a gap for yourself, or get two guys guarding one and then get them in rotation. If all you get is ball-screens and actions, it's hard.”
“You have to penetrate, you have to be able to get into the lane. You also have to make some shots against them. You have to loosen their defense up by making shots.”
"We thought breaking their press, attacking their press, and then rebounding the ball were the two most important things. You're going to get some open shots if you attack the press, but you have to knock them down. Tennessee scored 14 points in the second half in the SEC tournament against them, and that was a Sweet 16 team."
“Offensively, it's just talking about how fast they play. And the other thing is how well they pass the ball and share the ball. That's what stands out to me. They're an unselfish team. Billy Donovan is a really good coach. He gets those guys to buy in. A lot of what they do is not off the ball-screen action, it's off the pass after the ball-screen action. You have to have patience.”
“I look at it from two ways. Transition defense was probably the big one. If you get beat in transition, you're going to get beat in the game. And then how you are going to score against them. At one point, they were allowing 43 points a game at home in the SEC. You gotta score. Find ways to score against their defense. And keep them out of transition.”
“The biggest thing is defending ball-screens and trying to take the 3 away. You just have to do a great job of ball-screen coverage. They change the angle at the last second, switch sides. You also have to know where the shooters are.”
"It helps a lot. They got really good players who are all older guys. Young is a senior, Wilbekin is a senior, Yeguete is a senior, Prather is a senior. And Young and Wilbekin have been playing from day one. They have a ton of minutes under their belt. They have the Player of the Year in the SEC, the Defensive Player of the Year, the Sixth Man of the Year, and the Coach of the Year. You know, they just happen to ahve a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline. Billy [Donovan] has done an unbelievable job of getting everyone to buy in. None of those guys are playing for NBA scouts. They're playing for a national championship. And that's why they're the favorite."
“How many teams that are top-10 teams start four seniors? It's unheard of. For them to be that good but also have experienced guys, that's the difference between them and a lot of other teams.”
“It's tremendous. This is an outstanding team. But that experience shows up late in games, at different parts of the game, when they get hit with adversity. Their adversity doesn't last as long. We all get with adversity, but with Florida, it just doesn't last as long. In the NCAA tournament, you'll hear stuff about them not having pros. But they have guys who are going to make rosters. They have guys who understand style of play and what they're supposed to do.”
“You have a team that has been to back-to-back-to-back Elite Eights, and a coach that has won two national championships. They don't just have good experience, they've got great experience.”
“I think it created some depth, but more importantly, those guys had success during that time. If they didn't have success during that time, maybe they would have thought they weren't that good. But it gave those guys the belief that they can win ball games without having everyone on board.”
“It gave Prather a platform to do more offensively. They realized they have a guy who is able to score on a consistent basis. It gave him a platform to have the year he's having. He's the leading scorer overall, that's probably the biggest thing. Billy had to mix and match, put guys at different positions, and that adds continuity to your team. When you have foul trouble, or you're on the road, guys can play in different situations. “
"It brought them closer together. It got them to play as a team. If they didn't happen, i don't know if they would be where they are. Adversity is going to tear you apart of bring you closer. and it brought them closer.