Picture Pages: Beating The Rail

Submitted by Brian on February 12th, 2013 at 1:31 PM

After Michigan's first outing against Ohio State Zack Novak gave an interesting interview to UMHoops in which he described how the Buckeyes shut down Michigan's pick and roll game:

Well for the first 10 minutes of the game, it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Coach has referred to “locking the rails” in describing what OSU does to guard sideline ball screens, a huge staple of the offense. They do this better than anyone else. Many teams will take away a ball screen by having the defender on the ball play with his butt to the other sideline and bringing a big man in front of the ball handler. They take it to another level. They pretty much play the ball handler not to go to the opposite corner of mid court, essentially taking away any chance for the ball handler to still use the screen. This takes away all uncertainty a big man would have in playing in front of the ball handler.

In other words, big men usually hedge after a ball handler uses a ball screen. Even if the plan is to deny the ball handler from using it, the big still must be ready to hedge in the event the defender does not prevent the screen from being used. This uncertainty can cause big men to be just a fraction late, which in basketball is enough time for a good offensive player to exploit it.

In my eyes, it seemed like their big men were in position every time because they knew there was no chance the guard could use the screen.

Michigan sputtered to an 0.88 PPP outing, one of their worst of the season. In the offense-heavy rematch that moved up to 1.19, thanks in no small part to 58% shooting from three. But Burke also got free on a number of P&R possessions in the first half, with a rolling Mitch McGary the frequent beneficiary. Here's an example from early in the game; this is actually McGary's first offensive possession.

Michigan initiates the offense with a pass from GRIII to Burke and then flashes McGary to the top of the key.


By the time he gets there, Craft has set up shop such that there's no way for McGary to screen him.


This is "locking the rail." If Burke goes anywhere, it is right, and the big no longer has any hesitation.

McGary backs off, taking Williams with him, and then Burke attacks the basket, getting Craft outside of him with a crossover.


If Michigan acts quickly now, they can get the screen. McGary is waiting for this and Michigan successfully breaks the rail and gets the P&R.


Williams hedges hard as McGary rolls; Burke finds him.


Lenzelle Smith comes over in an attempt to pick up a charge. He may or may not get there in time, but we don't end up finding out because McGary's agility allows him to pull up short and avoid the contact as the arena is bathed in a mysterious rush of light.


A quick two for McGary enroute to 5/8 from the floor in the first half.


Things And Stuff

Burke shakes free. Burke needs help, but even if that drive doesn't get past Craft it necessarily puts him out of position when McGary re-establishes the pick and roll. It takes a little more work to set it up, is all. Burke was also able to shake Craft from the rail at times, like this late-clock move that puts Craft out of the picture and gets Ravenel on his heels, opening up the three:

With everyone on the floor staring down Burke this would be an opportune time for someone to dive to the rim, but oh well.

Planning ahead. Michigan executes a similar set with Hardaway on the next possession, but actually runs it too fast. Hardaway ends up trapped as Williams is much closer to the ball*, but the idea is the same. Next possession: same. Hardaway makes a token drive to the right and then comes back to a McGary screen; McGary gets a roll pass and misjudges how much room he has to attack, throwing up an awkward elbow jumper. After getting very little from the pick and roll in the first game, Michigan adapted, with moderate success inside the arc and Great Success outside.

*[Hardaway gets it to GRIII, who makes an excellent shot for himself against Thomas; Williams throws it back, whereupon Stauskas does his stepback swag in the corner that gets him gif'd.]

McGary skill level. Ohio State gets a defender over in position to take a charge; McGary pulls up short of him and puts up a lane floater that sneaks over the front of the rim. McGary has a high skill level for a 6'10" guy.

Almost inevitable offensive rebound. McGary also pounds Smith under the basket after the shot goes up; Amir Williams is hanging out with Burke well outside your picture, and GRIII has gotten good position on Thomas here. Note also that by the time Burke's three goes down, Craft is trying to box out Horford. That's one vs four, but a relatively high chance of an OREB anyway.

One of the problems against Wisconsin was a relative paucity of shots where offensive rebounds are on the table in the event of a miss.



February 12th, 2013 at 3:38 PM ^

The combo of Burke/Hardaway and Stauskas all being able to either shoot from deep or drive makes this whole system work...even when the play doesn't work, the step back jumper from any of the 3 is a thing of Beauty

I think we get bogged down when the off-the ball action (those GRIII cuts to the basket, etc) isn't working because that's when the entire defense can focus a lot more on the ball handler and flood the zone so to speak.