Hoops Picture Pages: Spacing Issues

Submitted by Ace on January 15th, 2013 at 3:12 PM

For the first time this season, Michigan's offense looked stagnant for prolonged stretches against Ohio State, largely due to the Buckeyes shutting down the pick and roll game. Going back over the film, it was clear much of this had to do with the on-ball defense of Aaron Craft, who hounded Trey Burke into a 4-for-13 shooting performance.

Interestingly, Craft was able to get away with going under the screen for most of the game despite Burke hitting a three-pointer when he did so in the game's opening minutes. With Burke not shooting over the top, Craft was able to take away his ability to get to the basket, and with that the easy buckets that Burke usually creates for himself and his teammates.

While Craft played a stellar defensive game, however, it wasn't his play alone that mitigated Michigan's go-to offensive play; the Wolverines simply didn't execute well on offense. Here's one such example—Michigan has just reset after an offensive rebound, and Mitch McGary comes out to set a screen for Burke:

Note that there's plenty of space in the middle of the Buckeye defense above. In the next frame, you'll see Craft has gone over McGary's screen and is now stuck behind Burke, so OSU center Evan Ravenel steps up to cut off the drive while McGary starts his roll to the basket:

At this juncture, Michigan should be able to create a good look. Burke is past Craft and therefore occupying Ravenel. McGary is heading to the basket, which should force Deshaun Thomas (defending in the paint) to abandon guarding Tim Hardaway Jr. entirely—which, of course, leaves one Buckeye to guard both Hardaway and Nik Stauskas. If Sam Thompson—at the top of the screen—comes down to help, Glenn Robinson III should be open in the corner for a... wait, Glenn, where are you going?

Unfortunately for Michigan, Robinson cut to the basket at precisely the wrong time—he heads right into the space that McGary is cutting towards. When coaches talk about the importance of spacing, this is what they're talking about. The spacing issues Robinson's cut creates are really apparent in the next frame:

Even though Burke still has a step on Craft, OSU has every Michigan option covered. Ravenel is both taking away the drive and any passing lane to McGary, while Thompson is doing the same on Robinson. Thomas is able to step out on Hardaway. Stauskas is occupied in the corner. Now Burke is forced to try to make something out of nothing:

That something turns out to be a contested layup over Ravenel that doesn't even catch iron. Note that a small blanket could cover both Robinson and McGary.


While Craft recovered nicely, this is a play that should've resulted in a Michigan basket, but it was thwarted by inexperience; a simple mistimed cut from Robinson is enough to throw off the entire play.

As Michigan romped through non-conference play, it was easy to forgot that they're still a very young team. Some freshman mistakes are more obvious than others, like when Caris LeVert threw a pass to no one after leaving his feet, giving Ohio State an easy fast break layup. Plays like the one above—after a reset, when a player needs to know on the fly where the offense calls for him to be on the floor—are more subtle, but also show off mistakes born from inexperience.

Those plays should be fewer and farther between as the season goes along; at the same time, this team is going to rely all year on five freshmen. Trey Burke is a great example of a player making a big leap after getting familiar with John Beilein's system—that leap, of course, came between his freshman and sophomore seasons. It's doubtful Michigan is going to eliminate these types of errors by March.

That's not to say Michigan can't make the Final Four by sheer force of talent combined with Beilein's coaching; if they do, though, they'll have to overcome their youth.



January 15th, 2013 at 3:32 PM ^

As an OSU fan, you guys scared me coming into this game, and really going out of it too. I think you'll curb stomp us in Ann Arbor. That said, you guys need to grow up a little to make a deep tourney run. Winning away from home and closing out games is an aquired skill of experienced teams. You guys aren't very deep, but you don't foul and it doesn't become an issue. If you can stay clean even in aggressive games on the road, you'll do very well.

If some of your guys that are Sophs and Juniors decide to come back next year, look out. Unfortunately I think the NBA will be quite the draw and Burke almost left last year (which I'm not sure makes him more likely to go after this year or not.)

Michael Scarn

January 15th, 2013 at 3:34 PM ^

Good read.  I think one thing people have to realize is that teams are going to be showing Michigan a lot of different looks throughout the season to try and stop their offense.  I have no doubt that Beilein will be able to respond accordingly.  These kids will grow throughout the season facing tough B1G defensive teams, which should set them up well for the tourney. 

El Jeffe

January 15th, 2013 at 3:37 PM ^

This play shows how valuable a pick-and-pop as opposed to a pick-and-roll big can be in this (or any) offense. Rewatch the vid and mentally leave the counterfactually awesome three-point-shooting McGary spaced a little to the right wing, behind the three-point line.

Then, since Trey has beaten Craft (or more accurately, Craft has gone over the screen), watch Trey either dish to Counterfactual McGary for a wide-open three, blow by Ravenel to the hoop, dish to a non-cutting GRIII, or throw the lob to a cutting GRIII after Thompson comes up to help on Trey.

Dammit, Counterfactual McGary!!!

Actually, I do wonder if McGary should have popped only to keep the lane open for Trey. Probably that would be a hard read to make on the fly.


January 15th, 2013 at 3:40 PM ^

Nice analysis, Ace.

I think the problems with this play were compounded by two other things as well: (a) McGary's screen wasn't the strongest screen I've ever seen, so it doesn't hold Craft up for long and (b) Burke takes the screen to the short side of the floor, where Hardaway and Stauskas are setting up, meaning that there's not a lot of room to move. There are three defenders between the foul line and the block on that  side of the floor, with Craft chasing. I think Craft goes over the screen because he knows Burke is going to have fight through that congestion even if he can't recover right away, and going under means Burke shoots over the top.

I think this might have been a better play if the action ran the other way (to Burke's right). GRIII's cut might have made more sense, too, since his defender may have had to help either on McGary flashing down the lane or on Burke if Craft went over the screen.


January 15th, 2013 at 3:40 PM ^

It's doubtful Michigan is going to eliminate these types of errors by March. 

The issue of GRIII cutting is an "error" that probably has already been corrected with a conversation between Beilein and Robinson. That's not a problem that takes more than 2 minutes to correct.

Of course, we could look at this another way - had Burke lobbed the ball to the bucket after losing Craft, this wouldn't have been a bad move by GRIII at all.

This is simply the issue of moving parts on the basketball court. You sometimes run plays, but a vast majority of play is improv.


January 15th, 2013 at 6:45 PM ^

I think Michigan played a good team, and just like Duke, is one that seems to be in Michigan's head. I saw a lot of nerves and over trying in this game. Are those issues fixable? Michigan does not just have a good coach, but a great one. I think they have already been working on this issue. Will it be better by next game? I hope so. By the next time we play OSU at home? Should be. Will we get home calls and the crould as a boost? Yes. Should we be outraged that Michigan lost? Not so much. This is a young team is still comming into prominence. They will be better. Number 1 is still obtainable.

Remember the book "Three and out?" First, you loose big. Check. Then you loose close. Check. Then you win close. Soon. Looking forward to the next step of winning big. The program has momentum, and this game is just a speed bump.  I am looking forward to March, and any game that helps build character is a benefit.


January 15th, 2013 at 3:44 PM ^

And after watching the play a few times, it seems to me conceptually that McGary set the pick to the wrong side. The pick bunched up 4 Buckeyes into Burke's space. Had the pick led Burke to GRIII's side of the court, either of GRIII's options (cut or spot up) would've resulted in a decent look.


January 15th, 2013 at 4:14 PM ^

Great point. I haven't rewatched the game, but my impression at the time was that Michigan's offense seemed far more congested than normally. Part of this was that Burke and Hardaway couldn't beat their men on the dribble, but part of it was that we didn't move the ball very well.

By not reversing the ball, Michigan didn't really force OSU's defense to adjust. In this play, you see that OSU's off the ball defenders never have to change the angle at which they're defending, or even really shift positions at all. When you move the ball, you force the defense to move as well and one wrong step can open players up. When the ball remains in the same place, though, it's not too hard to defend even a team of great shooters.


January 15th, 2013 at 4:23 PM ^

Once there was nothing after the pick why not bring it back out and try another play. UM bailed on plays and went into Improv mode or jack up a 3 mode WAY WAY to quick in this game. probably bc they were flustered.

Burke could have easily reset this instead of try to get to the corner(that works against OOC scrubs not OSU/MSU/Minny/IU).

Burke called his number several times again late which led to ill advised shots. UM should just RUN the offense. make sure everyone is getting touches until the best shot develops. They didn't make OSU play D long enough IMO most of this game.



January 15th, 2013 at 4:39 PM ^

For all of the errors made by the freshmen, and there were plenty, I too think a lot rests on Burke's shoulders.  He wasn't getting the defensive action he was expecting and didn't seem to know when to pull back or what the third or even fourth option should have been.  Of course that might have been a function of the freshmen not getting to the right spots when something broke down.  To me though that's what Michigan needs to figure out.  JB's offense has changed over the past few years, starting with Morris but I would like to think he still has some of the ball movement elements that he can incorporate.

EQ RC Blue

January 15th, 2013 at 4:13 PM ^

To me, this looks like Trey's miss -- he had GRIII wide open under the hoop and didn't get it to him (via lob or bounce pass).  Screen shot 3 called for a pass to GRIII.  Or even a bounce pass to McGary, who has an open lane.  Of course, things are easy to spot slowing things down to frame by frame action, and real time, with OSU's length and tenacity, it's hard to get it right.  But I don't think anything's wrong with that cut.  GRIII saw his man ball-watching and got in position to take advantage of it. 

Afterward, the spacing does get messed up, and Trey should pull it out and reset.   

Please insert all the usual accolades to Trey here, which are well-earned. 


January 15th, 2013 at 4:33 PM ^

The initial play is on G Rob. He did cut too early and basically took himself out of the play and left Burke hanging by just continuing down low and sitting under the rim after his initial cut.

If he

A) waits to cut at the right time he MIGHT be open for a lob but there is too much traffic in there for a bounce pass to get through. Note, all the bounce/ chest passes UM tried early in the game that led to TOs and OSU fast breaks. WAY too much threading the needle being tried early.

B) Once he made the early(bad cut) he could have reserved back out to the corner to help Burke out. Its clear btwn screenshot 3-4 that G Rob is not going to get the ball via lob or back door cut so he should be flairing out to help Burke in the Corner/wing. His man is clearly ball watching at this point and if he flairs out G Rob get a corner 3. The play gets reset. Or when Burke shoots thats one less OSU guuy down low fighting for a Reb.

Instead G Rob stays under the hoop brining his man into the traffic and cutting off all angles.

Terrible movement/wing play plus a little bit of an ichy trigger finger by burke when things broke down(instead of resetting) put UM in a HUGE hole. The ichy trigger finger showed up once it was tied 46-46 too.

EQ RC Blue

January 15th, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

...with the PG in the  middle of the floor.  Never a bad idea. 

You could get a bounce pass in there -- it might be tight, but Trey should be able to make that pass.  Also, he could pass it to McGary who could feed GRIII.  McGary is a good passer.  It's okay to hit singles, as JB says, even for Trey.

At screen shot 3 and 4, you're right, the spacing is messed up -- it might have been better for GRIII to reverse it back out.  However, given the motion that's going on, I don't think he'd be set for a 3 in time.  At this point, it's probably necessary for Trey to reset the whole thing


January 15th, 2013 at 4:44 PM ^

That's a really tough pass to pull off, though, given Ravenal's squared up help with Craft positioned behind ready to swat the ball if Burke raises it above his head. I think GRIII would be better off cutting higher to open space or settling lower on the baseline to give Burke an option if Thomas has to help (there's a good si article about Anthony Davis's offense today that shows him being really dangerous when he settles on the baseline about 5 feet outside the paint). GRIII's so deep here that a lob's about the only way to get him the ball and lobs were unlikely, given OSU's ball pressure.

EQ RC Blue

January 15th, 2013 at 5:15 PM ^

Bit of a tough pass, no doubt, but I think Trey can make that pass.  He can also pass it to McGary, who as a better angle.  Like I said above, hit singles, get the hockey assist. 

Setting up a little bit farther up the baseline might not be a bad idea, maybe even seal his guy off a bit.  You want to give your teammates room/separation to get you the ball, but I think you have a good point here.


January 15th, 2013 at 4:28 PM ^

What GRIII could (should?) have done is run behind the arc on the elbow and make himself available for a pass and potential 3 pointer. That also would have pulled his man away from McGary's movement and actually increased spacing.


January 15th, 2013 at 6:49 PM ^

I wasn't able to watch this game live.  I only caught it on youtube after reading all about it here on the blog and the game wasnt anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be.  I think we lost because we played like crap (and the refs sucked) not because OSU was better.  We shot like crap, even just counting the good looks.  We took horrible shots, long threes, contested jumpers, and lots of them early in the shot clock.  Again thats on us, everyone turned into 2011/12 hardaway.  Burke wasnt running the offense, he was playing the nba one on one clear out game and that is never when hes most effective.  Of course the refs were atrocious.  Throw in a horrible start and yet we still almost won.  I'm feeling just fine about this team even if I'm sad that the win streak is broken.


January 15th, 2013 at 9:46 PM ^

I think the overlooked thing, as mentioned above, is McGary's screen. He clips Craft enough for Burke to get by Craft, but it's not strong enough to prevent Craft from riding Burke's back hip and with Ravenel squared up, the pressure is there to make Burke think he's in a tighter space than he might actually be.

Little Dog's cut is ill-timed and there is no way in hell a barely six foot Burke is going to try a backdoor lob to a semi-covered Little Dog over Ravenel. That or a bounce pass to anyone besides McGary is a likely turnover.

The question becomes after the mis-timed cut, what's the play? I think what follows is on McGary again because he doesn't abandon his roll when he sees the defense collapse on him and Robinson. Even a pop-out to give Burke an outlet would've been better than continuing to roll into what's become a mass of bodies underneath. If McGary pops out, Burke delivers it to him, comes back out and the offense resets.

If there was one other big problem I saw on Sunday that's evident in this clip, and it seems to be specific to Ohio State, Trey Burke too often went full Kobe and played hero ball. Whether that's Craft's pressure or Burke simply trying too hard to stick it to Ohio State, I can remember several occasions on both the break and in the half court where Burke had a shooter set up and tried to do it himself.

Regardless, a win in what's sure to be a hostile atmosphere at The Barn will solidify Michigan's credentials as a #1 seed since to make it through the schedule mostly unscathed the team will have to win tough road games in conference.

Maison Bleue

January 15th, 2013 at 11:55 PM ^

I just finished watching this game for the fourth time. And yes, I am aware of my sadomasochistic tendencies. From these multiple viewings I have to wonder... Why do we accept the refs just altering the game at their every whim as "Meh, it's just home court advantage?" I tried to be as objective as possible the fourth(and last) time I watched this game. Let me say, this is much easier to do while sipping a couple of Hopslams. There were definitely bad calls both ways.  Still, it was laughable to say the least. Horrible blocking calls, missed goaltendening calls, shooting fouls called as fouls on the floor and of course clotheslines ignored. Then I flip to the IU/Wisconsin game. Why is it, that while it still exists, the home court advantage is much less prevalent? Is it because I bleed Maize and Blue? Or is it because M is a victim of a rivalry where one team is not allowed to be that much more talented than the other, especially on the road? I don't know, maybe I'm reaching. But I came away with this. We were not good, but we were better than them for 30 out of 40 minutes on the road in the B1G. It just sucks that we couldn't pull out a W.