By Request

During the last couple of weeks, in response to a series of posts on the decline of scoring in college basketball and my attempt to trace the reasons for this disturbing trend by probing Austin Carr’s record-setting performance in the early 1970’s, several readers have requested information on the Stack or Isolation Offense. Over the weekend I was flattered to hear from basketball aficionado, Herb Welling.

Coach Welling, as you may know, has been called the “minister of information” in coaching circles and has been featured several times in the media, most prominently in Grant Wahl’s 2008 Sports Illustrated article on the evolution of the Dribble Drive Motion offense.

Herb first became acquainted with betterthanalayup.com when researching the matching zone defense and discovered my piece on coach Gene Sullivan’s strategy. In recent days we’ve shared several emails and phone calls, discussing the origins of Sullivan’s equally interesting Stack offense.

I promised him that I would provide a deeper dive into the subject and am pleased to offer it now in a “quick and dirty,” Q & A format. In the future I’ll post a more comprehensive and polished essay.

In the meantime, I hope this initial piece proves helpful and prompts further questions and commentary.

Click here to read Stack Offense Q & A

Time Machine

Let’s go back.

In fact, let’s go back forty-five years to an era of college basketball retired sports columnist Mike Loprestti fondly remembers.

“There was no shot clock, no three-pointers and no complaints about lack of scoring. Jacksonville put up 109, 104, 106, and 91 points on its way to the 1970 championship game that it lost to UCLA. Who knew that the more they put in rules friendly to the offense, the lower the scores would go?”

That same year I sat on the Notre Dame bench as the Irish student trainer and witnessed first-hand that historic tournament game I referenced in my last post. The one in which Austin Carr set the single-game tournament scoring record, garnering 61 points against Ohio University in the first round of the 1969-70 tournament.

Today, captured on ancient video tape, the game is not only great fun to watch but is of historic interest as it marks the beginning of the end of one era in college basketball and the launching of the one we now experience. In many ways, it foreshadows what the game was to become and how it began to deteriorate even as it grew in popularity driven by 24/7 cable coverage and the explosion of March Madness. Here’s a quick rundown of what the game tape reveals: Continue reading…

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It’s over… finally. Much of it unwatchable. The slowest, lowest scoring collegiate season since 1981-82. In fact, you’d have to go back 64 years to 1951-52 to find a less productive season. That’s an era when many players still relied on two and one-handed set shots.

The tournament, of course, presented many of the old delights – the “combination of upsets, buzzer-beaters, frenzied comebacks, court-storming, dancing, and weeping” recently noted by ESPN’s Brian Phillips – but also contributed to the season-long agony of pushing and shoving, interminable timeouts, coaches prowling the sideline, often straying onto the court, jump shots clanging off the rim… well, you get the picture.

  • According to analytics expert Ken Pomeroy, three of this year’s Final Four teams ranked outside of the top 200 in tempo. The lone exception? Duke ranked No. 114.
  • In its semi-final game against Duke, Michigan State scored 14 points in the first 3:42 of play followed by only 9 points in the remaining 16:18 of the half. Duke advanced to the finals on the back of 27 free throws and 26 field goals in 40 minutes of competition. That’s an average of one basket every 90 seconds.
  • Forty-eight hours later, the halftime score of Duke’s national championship game with Wisconsin ended 31 apiece. In the 1988 matchup, Kansas and Oklahoma battled to a 50 – 50 tie in the same period of time, collectively outscoring this year’s stalwarts, including nine McDonald’s All Americans, three of whom are surefire one-and-doners, by 38 points.
  • The final five minutes of the Duke – Wisconsin brawl took 18:41 minutes of real time to play.

To place the dismal offensive performance of this year’s tournament in historical perspective, consider the following: Continue reading…

It’s a Simple Game

In The Physics of Baseball, Yale professor Robert Adair describes the difficulty of hitting a baseball hurdling toward the batter at 90 miles per hour. Yet, the greatest hitter of all time, Ted Williams, was able to reduce Adair’s detailed study into a simple law that separates the strong hitter from the mediocre. Just as Einstein was able to reduce his theory of relativity to a single equation, Williams was able to distill the science of hitting in a single sentence: Get a good pitch to hit. I have long wondered if we could do the same for the game of basketball. 

Continue reading...

The Best Matching Zone You’ve Never Seen

We’re three months into the 2013-14 season and the more vocal critics of the new hand-check and block/charge rules are beginning to quiet down. (See C.J. Moore and Matt Norlander’s recent columns.) Compared to last year at the same point in time, fouls are up by only four while scoring has increased by six, and most games have been completed in less than two hours.

I happen to think that the rule changes are the best thing to happen to college basketball in a long time. Eventually the players will more fully adapt, learning that defense is played with one’s feet and heart, not with arms, hands, and hips.

In any event, some coaches are turning to various forms of the zone defense in an attempt to cut down on fouls and keep their starters in the game. In early December, using statistics compiled by Synergy Sports Technology, The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen reported that the use of zones was up by a 6% since last year with Top-25 teams facing zones on nearly 24% for their half-court sets.

If that news sparks your interest in the zone defense, here’s an in-depth look at the most comprehensive match-up ever devised.

Click here to read Rediscovering Gene Sullivan’s Matching Zone Defense, Part I