Sunday, March 23, 2014

Calipari's Crucial Adjustment

There was a lot of talk about narratives headed into Wichita State-Kentucky, but the only one that mattered was two-post vs. four-out. It was no different from the Heat and the Pacers in the NBA - Kentucky played two 6'9+ post players all game while Wichita had a 6'8 combo forward (Cleanthony Early) who played on the perimeter at the 4.

Gregg Marshall, like Eric Spoelstra, had a choice. Either he could change his identity to match-up with Kentucky's size - by playing two big men at once rather than spreading the floor - or he could hope to hide smaller players in the post. Like Spo, he went with Option B. Wichita doubled the post a lot and forced Julius Randle to be a passer - he got a career-high 6 assists.

Marshall could live with that because of what it allowed him to do on the offensive end. Kentucky's young big men (Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress) had no real idea how to defend Early on the perimeter. He was too quick and way too good of a ball-handler - he could create space for an open 3 or take them off the dribble and get to the rim.

The turning point of the game turned out to be the 3 pointer Early hit over Poythress with 4:37 in the 2nd half, which gave Wichita a 69-64 lead. Early hit Poythress with the jab-step than told him hand down, man down, nailing a 3 in his eye. Cal pulled Poythress immediately and made the crucial coaching adjustment of the game - sticking James Young on Early.

Young, at 6'7 210, was giving up some size, but he had the speed to stay in front of Early and contest his jumper. Cal opted to hide Randle on the 6'2 Tekele Cotton, gambling that Marshall wouldn't run offense through his 5th option. Just like that, Kentucky had gummed up the big mismatch in Wichita's half-court offense. Before he made that switch, Early had 27 points on 15 shots.

Early tried to attack Young in the post. In one sequence, Young fronted him, he caught the pass over the top but then missed the lay-up when Cauley-Stein came over to help. In another, Early caught the ball at 20 feet and hit a jumper over Young. Nevertheless, Early wasn't drawing a double team, didn't hit any 3's and opted not to attack Young several times in the last few minutes.

That's the kind of move that can win or lose an NCAA Tournament game - an in-game adjustment on your defensive assignments. By no means is it rocket science, but there are plenty of coaches in the field of 68 who wouldn't have made it. For all the knocks Cal gets as a coach, he has gotten a young team to play team basketball and he just went toe-to-toe with Gregg Marshall.

There's more to Calipari's job than just getting guys to Lexington and rolling the ball on the floor. It doesn't matter how much talent your teams have, you don't go to the Final Four four times if you don't know what you are doing.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I've been following you for awhile on RealGM, and it's great to find more of your work here.