Staying the course defensively paid off for Cuonzo Martin and Missouri Tigers, it resulted in a massive comeback.
It was an intriguing game from a strategic perspective because the Missouri comeback did seem inevitable, even with Georgia up 20 with 13:30 left to go in the game. The strategic gambit made by Cuonzo Martin made it possible for Missouri to ultimately win the game, the question was whether Georgia was going to take the bait. The inexperienced Bulldogs did take the bait and there was not much Tom Crean could do about it. No amount of timeouts is going to convince a team that played so “well” in the First Half that they cannot repeat the same success in the next twenty minutes and that the shot selection had to change. Missouri is absolutely the better team in this game and it took a massive reversion of the mean to get to that point. What Missouri did tonight will absolutely be replicated by future opponents and what Georgia did in the First Half would be very tough to replicate.
Cuonzo Martin’s Defensive Gambit
Most people do not understand what they just watched or why it happened the way it did. The replay is not out so the GIFs are simply not available to be made, so let’s just rely on a description of what Cuonzo Martin’s objective was and his understanding of Georgia’s offensive weaknesses. This loss for Georgia all boiled down to the offense getting exposed and the defensive effort worsening as the team’s offensive confidence began to dip.
What does Georgia do on offense?
- Heavy dribble drive team from the top of the key
- Limited post-ups
- When players are moving, heavy cuts on the baseline
- Take a lot of inadvisable iso three point shots
- Chin action screen when inverting the court to set up cutters across the elbows.
What does Georgia struggle with on offense specifically?
- Three point shooting from just about everywhere
- Making the appropriate passes
- Getting greedy along the baseline to create opportunities that do not exist
- Finishing through contact and drawing contact on cuts and drives
- Driving from the wings
- Inconsistent ball movement due to the desire to take quick shots (everyone thinks they are Steph Curry or James Harden)
Cuonzo Martin’s approach was to do the following with his man-to-man defense.
- Pinch the top of the key to deny downhill drives from the top of the key along the three point arc.
- If there’s no opportunity to have two pincer defenders on the arc, a big moves up to defend the top of the key inside the three point arc.
- Take away the baseline, there is no need for a pressure man-to-man here, just if there is a player along the corner look to deny the baseline at all costs.
- Force all dribble drives from the wings, coming from players who are deemed non-drivers.
In essence, the strategy was to force Toumani Camara and Rayshaun Hammonds to do one of three things that they do not excel at:
- Take a corner three point that is not from inside-out action.
- Drive from the right wing.
- Shoot a three point shot from the left wing.
That was the objective and it was discouraging for Missouri that it was not working in the First Half because they were challenging Georgia’s shooters rather well and yet yielded a 50% three point Field Goal percentage. Missouri is an excellent three point shooting defense and Georgia is a bad three point shooting team. The shots taken by Anthony Edwards and Tyree Crump were generally either quick shots or challenged shots. An opponent should not be disheartened by such a development, but Missouri was and they never tested Georgia’s defense to see if they were switching in man-to-man. The answer is that Georgia was alternating in the First Half between switching and not switching on ball screens, but there were very few ball screens. All that was noticeable was the screens without the ball and Georgia did not switch, the team just went under the screens. This game was a strategic and psychological battle.
Missouri was playing like a team that seemed doomed because they had no answers for the shots that Georgia made from three point range. Georgia was able to attack the rim from any angle desired after the three point shot barrage, it led to the Dawgs getting to the Free Throw Line. The team bought into what Tom Crean wanted out of them offensively simply because the shots were made.
It’s all conditional with this team as far as their commitment to attacking the rim with confidence and setting up quality shots and Cuonzo Martin knew this.
Martin decides to stay the course.
The decision for Martin not to make an adjustment was not a bold choice. He saw Georgia’s terrible shot selection and the following information also did not hurt.
Georgia only had 5 assists in the First Half. The team also had 8 turnovers. Georgia’s ball movement was garbage, but the Field Goal percentage was higher than normal. The expectation is that Georgia would regress to the mean and the poor ball movement was reflect itself in the Second Half. It took seven minutes into the Second Half for the strategy to finally pay off.
5 Assists and 9 Turnovers in the Second Half. 1/11 three point shooting that brought the team’s percentage all the way back down to a percentage that is rather close to Georgia’s average. The only thing that kept Georgia going offensively was the ability to draw fouls and get to the Free Throw Line, but even that was not enough. Georgia needed 15 Free Throw Attempts in the Second Half to win the game, but only was able to get 8.
Georgia’s spirit dissipated as the lead decreased and the tendencies of this Georgia Basketball Team played out just as Cuonzo Martin planned. The Missouri Offense was able to get better shot attempts because Missouri was able to get some sort of a defensive momentum. Missouri needs defensive momentum to get the offense going and Georgia operates the exact opposite.
Georgia went 7:08 without making a Field Goal in the Second Half. The shot selection was awful. Georgia was rendered a jump shooting and turnover team for ten minutes in the Second Half, the final 7:08 of this stretch is when the shots finally stopped falling and the momentum had been seized by Missouri. Missouri’s game plan finally worked.
Tom Crean needs to make some offensive adjustments and if you thought the First Half was acceptable Basketball, you simply did not understand what you were watching. It was a fluke of a First Half and it set up a Second Half of false confidence that led to a demoralizing result.
So what can Tom Crean do? All he can really do is tweak at this point.
He can give opponents a taste of their own medicine. Opponents are abusing Georgia with ball screens and taking advantage of poor switches. More ball screens provides more options and frees up more dribble drive opportunities. Players need to be empowered to set ball screens and roll, even slips would be a nice touch to play off the pinched approach at the top of the key.
Shot fakes, Bob Knight would love this suggestion, but it is true. Take advantage of the free-shooting mentality and shot fake. Tyree Crump showed effectiveness as a driver from the wing and better ball handlers should be looking to shot fake to either force a player to leave their feet or disrupt defensive timing in a man-to-man defense.
Moratorium on the bad three point shots. Force the shots to be inside-out as this encourages ball movement. A lot of shots were set up by passes along the perimeter and the defenses want Anthony Edwards and Tyree Crump taking these shots.
Posting up Rayshaun Hammonds and Anthony Edwards with options. A common set element that was a part of Rick Byrd’s Offense at Belmont was a set colloquially referred to as “The Fan”. It is a 4 out 1 in look that is set up off a high or low post feed where the post player gets the ball and every player from the perimeter cuts down, but with a read to V-cut back to the perimeter for an open jump shot when the player in the post makes a dribble. Once again, the objective is to encourage inside-out offense and movement without the ball.
Fix the shooting in the offseason and find ways to improve the offensive movement and confidence attacking the basket. It will spur the defensive effort as in the offseason, there will be an opportunity to reconfigure the roster and change the defensive approach accordingly. This is not a team that should be using a 2-3 Zone as an alternative defense, this was a massive mistake by Tom Crean. This is a staff that is experienced with installing 1-2-2 Matchup Zone and this can be a very disruptive defense when it is a part of the team’s identity. The 2-3 Zone is flat and inactive and this must be changed, in the offseason.
Tip your cap to Cuonzo Martin for coming up with a game plan that attacked Georgia’s weaknesses perfectly, sticking to it, and convincing his team to stay in the fight when it looked like Georgia was having an unstoppable night.