Virginia, Texas Tech ride tough de­fenses into Fi­nal Four

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS | CLASSIFIED­S - By Aaron Beard AP Bas­ket­ball Writer

Virginia’s climb to its Fi­nal Four break­through be­gan with a sound de­fen­sive scheme, a stead­fast foun­da­tion al­low­ing the Cava­liers to grind down even the best and most bal­anced of of­fenses for years.

At Texas Tech, it’s as much about pair­ing an ag­gres­sive edge with the X’s and O’s and scout­ing work that has led to de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency not seen in years.

Their pres­ence in Min­neapo­lis for Saturday’s na­tional semi­fi­nals is the big­gest rea­son why this is such a de­fen­sive-minded Fi­nal Four. The ap­proaches dif­fer for the Cava­liers and Red Raiders, but the re­sults can look aw­fully sim­i­lar — with op­po­nents see­ing their best op­tions taken away while fin­ish­ing with low scor­ing to­tals, bad shoot­ing per­cent­ages and high lev­els of frus­tra­tion.

There’s one other com­mon thread, too.

“If you don’t want to play de­fense,” Texas Tech’s Kyler Ed­wards said, “you’re not go­ing to play.”

The Cava­liers, the lone No. 1 seed to make it to the tour­na­ment’s fi­nal week­end, have been a fix­ture in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency rank­ings since their break­out 2014 sea­son under Tony Ben­nett. They en­ter Saturday’s semi­fi­nal against Auburn ranked fifth na­tion­ally, sur­ren­der­ing 88.7 points per 100 pos­ses­sions, a met­ric that fac­tors out Virginia’s slower of­fen­sive pace and of­fers a bet­ter mea­sure of per­for­mance than scor­ing av­er­ages depressed by slower tem­pos and low-posses­sion games.

Texas Tech has made a rapid rise in three sea­sons under Chris Beard, en­ter­ing its semi­fi­nal against Michi­gan State lead­ing in de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency (84.0) with the low­est score in KenPom’s records dat­ing to the 2002 sea­son.

So how do they do it? For Virginia, it’s all about the pack-line de­fense — a man-to-man scheme that packs four de­fend­ers in­side an imag­i­nary arc to clog the paint against driv­ing lanes while hav­ing one player ap­ply­ing pres­sure on the ball.

When work­ing right, there’s crowd of de­fend­ers to greet any driver. Those driv­ing lanes open if the play­ers are in the wrong spot, and lack­ing that ball pres­sure al­lows a ball han­dler to — as Alabama trans­fer Brax­ton Key put it — “win­dow shop” for an easy pass.

It’s a sim­ple ap­proach, just not so easy to beat.

“They’re very vanilla,” said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, a for­mer coach at Man­hat­tan, St. John’s and New Mex­ico. “There’s not a lot of de­vi­a­tion. There’s not a lot of ad­just­ing for op­po­nents’ strengths. It’s more, ‘This is what we do and you’re go­ing to have to beat us by mak­ing out­side shots,’ be­cause most nights we’re not letting you to get into the paint.”

Still, it takes ad­just­ments for play­ers in learning that un­wa­ver­ing ap­proach.

/ ap

Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard laughs with his play­ers in a hud­dle dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for the semi­fi­nals of the Fi­nal Four tour­na­ment in Min­neapo­lis on Fri­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.