Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time to quit the switching?

As you 2 regular readers of this blog know, I have had a long running interest on the changing way the Badgers have defended ball screens over the years. As anyone who watched yesterday's Marquette game can see (or really any game this year), the defense sucks. Much of that has to do with playing a bunch of young players who are not great individual defenders, and lack the awareness needed for good help defense. For the past 20 years the Badgers have had a core of experienced upperclassmen virtually every year that were well schooled in the team's defensive principles. That is not the case this year, and it shows.

UW has played nothing but man to man defense over that time except for a very brief flirt with the 2-3 zone under Gard which was a disaster. There have been changes within the man to man, from going over the screen and hedging, to switching all screens, to going over and sinking. Currently, I'm not exactly sure what the system is, and that is a big part of the problem. Here are a series of clips from the Marquette game showing different ways they play the ball screen.

This is classic switching. Davison runs into the screener and stays with him after the dribble hand off, and Ford goes with the ball. Then there is another dribble hand off, and Ford stays on ball while Iverson switches with the guard going to the corner. Ford then hands off the ball carrier to Davison and stays with the big that floats off to the left side of the floor. At this point Happ's man comes up from the post to set another screen, and Davison hands off the ball carrier off to Happ. Happ does not come out to take him on the switch, and he gets a wide open 3.

In this clip Davison runs into the screener, Happ switches to the guard, and Happ shows this time to take away the jumper. The guard takes a dribble to create space, and Happ steps back, then comes out again to challenge but it's a shot fake. The problem is that Davison does not switch, he goes over the screen and comes over to the guard, instead of staying with the screener. The guard passes to an open man for a dunk (notice the other 3 defenders are all standing 18 feet from the hoop where they can't help).

Here there is no switching on the ball or off. There is a bunch of off ball screening action, a dribble handoff, and finally a ball screen, but everyone stays home with their man. On the final screen, Iverson shows on the ball carrier, before retreating to his man, and Davison "fights" over the screen to get back to his man.

Here Schlundt fights over the screen, and Charlie sinks to take away the lane instead of showing on the ball carrier to take away the jumper (I actually think Charlie has no idea where he is or what he is doing, but let's just say he was sinking on this one).

Finally, one last switch clip. On this one, both Happ and Davison leave the ball carrier, and go with the screener. Notice after the guard gets the wide open 3, Happ and Davison are fighting over who was responsible for what.

As I am known to say on occasion at Badger games, "What the hell are they doing"? Some of this is on the players as they are obviously getting torched routinely. More has to go on the coaches. They are playing a bunch of young players who are still learning how to play defense, and I think they are overloading them with too much responsibility. They should get rid of the switching. Switching requires a lot of communication, and a lot of feel for when to switch, when to switch back, and none of the young players are good enough for this.

When Bo started at UW, the defensive rules were simple. The on ball defender goes over the screen and stays on ball. The screening defender hedges every time and recovers to his man afterwards . All 3 other guys sink in when that happens to take away the lane. Everyone has a job, and everyone knew what the other's job was. If you did not do your job then you go to the bench.

Simplicity is a great thing. The Badgers need more of it on defense.


  1. Could not agree more. I grew up under Bennett disciples - I can still hear coach yell, "We don't switch! Switching is LAZY!" So when Bo came in & I started seeing switches, I was...confused. Wondered how they made work - but realized that at least at that point, the switched always, so there weren't communications issues. But eventually Bo had enough experienced guys to be able to teach them to vary based on situation & personnel - it really was pretty amazing.

    I've said this a number of times this year as well - this team needs to stop switching. It's not working - and the confusion about who gets who is only part of the problem. In addition to the mix ups where guys get open, the fact of the matter is this group doesn't have good enough individual defenders to handle the mismatches. B1G teams are going to recognize it and isolate guys and take advantage. Our bigs (other than Happ & frankly I'm not sure he's really an exception) just can't handle switching on to guards. And our guards (maybe excepting Davison) just can't manage to defend bigs in the post.

  2. Time to break out a zone to give AVV a chance to play.

  3. I know that it's impossible to not compare this team to past badger teams, but compared to other teams, the defense really isn't that bad. They are playing what you would expect of a very young team.

    1. I take Adam's main point to be that the switching is maybe not such a good idea for a very young team.

      For the record, I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like the last clip, with both Davison and Happ running away from a deadly three-point shooter. I know it was just a miscommunication, but ... Like I said, never seen anything quite like that.