How does MBB right the ship on defense?

Submitted by Lordfoul on February 19th, 2013 at 7:59 AM

After seeing all of the recent analysis of what ails Michigan Basketball, it seems obvious that something needs to happen to shore up the defense.  The team had a fair bit of success in the first half of the season running a man-to-man look, which JB said was taking advantage of the superior athletes on the team. Now the defense is looking slow and unable to stay in front of the players they are defending, or unable to recover and rotate when things begin to break down, resulting in easy lay-ups and a ballooning 2pt% given up on D.

So would it make sense for JB and staff to use some of the extra down time to bring out more zone looks on defense? As I understand it, a zone defense like a 2-3 can help clog the middle of the floor, making drives to the basket more difficult to execute, while tending to give up open 3pt looks.  Since Michigan already gives up many wide-open 3s playing man, what would be the downside to more zone?  



February 19th, 2013 at 8:10 AM ^

I don't know enough, but is it really that good of a stat that we're the best team in the country at not fouling?  I'd like to see Michigan be more physical, and we shouldn't be giving up as many points in the paint as we did against PSU.

Michigan Arrogance

February 19th, 2013 at 9:10 AM ^



I can't believe this got a 5. I can't disagree with this enough. There is no benefit to fouling other than 1) EoG scenarios and 2) hackashaq

I've always been baffled by the amount of fouls players commit in CBB. A foul is really a triple whammy:

1)gives a chance for a 3rd pt or 2/pts otherwise missed. it's a bailout for the other team's possession

2) it gets you that much closer to foul trouble for the player, affecting distribitution of minutes thoughout the rest of the game

3) gets you closer to the bonus, which is a HUGE advantage at the end of the half/game.

I have always thought coaching was poor in this regard- coaches teach the player to put his arms straight up and be tall- but how many times have you seen players give the extra swipe at the ball that leads to a foul? that lean over of vertical arms that causes contact and draws the foul? so stupid b/c you know they either A) ignored the BILLION drills they do in practice for months or B) the coach didn't teach it well enough. Easier said than done, i'm sure, but dang it seems so simple to execute.

i personally LOVE how this team doesn't foul. I've waited decades for a M team to play like this. we are NEVER in foul trouble. Nerver is the other team in the bonus when we aren not. love it.

you can be more physical w/o fouling- get stronger position and box out etc. Plus, doesn't anyone recall the Pitt game? that was a TOUGH performance out of our bigs. I don't think the coaching staff has done anything to stop them from being tough, I just think we played 3 of most talented front line teams in the nation (MSU, OSU, IU) and Wisc (which is basically the Wisc of CBB) while morgan was out. The PSU struggles were troubling, but lets hope the coaches get some film of that Pitt game, coach them up and Morgan gets back to 100%. i mean, those who want to foul more are basically asking for Morgan to get subbed out for biefelt when Morgan gets foul #2 in half1 or #3 in half 2.


this doesn't even account for the idea Brian brought up about having the freedom of our guards/forwards to go for steals that create transition opps. I even like McGary fouling on occasion to get the steal on feeds to the opposing big men- mostly b/c we can afford the potential foul.




February 19th, 2013 at 9:19 AM ^

This was literally a question.  I'm not saying we should be fouling just to foul, I just don't know how important it is to "not foul".  So we keep hearing "fewest fouls in the country" but how does that transition well, when I constantly see players getting uncontested looks in the paint? Maybe the solution isn't to foul... maybe it's just this last stretch, but it just seems like we can't seem to make it difficult to penetrate.  

Someone below mentioned the over-comitting on double teams, and I have to say I agree, we seem flat-footed at times on defense, which leads to points in the paint (particularly when our big men are away or out of position.)  McGary hustles his ass off, and i think generally our big men are underrated.  

I really was asking this as a question, though.


February 19th, 2013 at 9:48 AM ^

I think Beilein himself was saying this following the MSU game, when he said something like "If you left that game with one foul, you weren't playing aggressive enough."


Here's the exact quote: ""This is big boy basketball," Beilein said Sunday. "You're going to get hit, you're going to get shoved, people are going to wall you up and you still have to play through it. When you lose a game the way we did at Michigan State and we've got guys with one foul, there's more in you."


And if you look at the box, he's talking about quite a few people potentially: GRIII (21 min, 1 foul), McGary (26 min, 0 fouls), THJ (32 min, 1 foul), Stauskas (27 min, 0 fouls) 


February 19th, 2013 at 1:41 PM ^

Beilein was saying we need to be tougher and not use youth as an excuse for it anymore. Fouling doesn't mean hacking, it means getting in there and playing physical defense. Sometimes you're going to get called for it. Sometimes you won't. But you're changing the way the offense plays. 

And in addition, refs aren't going to call everything. If you fould every play, they're not going to call it every play. You're much more likely to get them to letting things go by playing physical than you are going to get them to call everything by never fouling yourself. It's what benefits you.

True Blue Grit

February 19th, 2013 at 8:20 AM ^

That will help our interior defense.  I would be in favor of us running more zone defense sets right now.  Other than that, good defense is a large part effort.  So, the coaches need to drill into them that winning this conference will only be achieved by great defense. 


February 19th, 2013 at 10:02 AM ^

"play crappier teams"

Don - They dont get much crappier than Penn State and we managed to let them score over 20 points more than their average on the road.  Our ability to turn a team's crappy offense into a good offense exceeds their crapometer.

Personally I'm in the go to a zone more crowd.  Man to man works great if you've get men who want to play defense.  Not sure if i'd put either of starting forwards in that camp.


February 19th, 2013 at 8:36 AM ^

Remember the 3-3-5. Radically changing defensive philosophies in the middle of the season is generally a bad idea. Our players look confused enough on defense that loading them with a whole new series of defensive keys is probably not the thing to do. 

Let's see what happens when Morgan's back to full strength and everyone else gets their legs back. Totally revamping the defense and going predominantly zone seems like a desperation measure. I doubt we'd have enough practice time to get the zone to a point where it was any better than our mediocre man to man the past few games. And it could be worse. It just takes one player confused about their responsibilities in the zone to cause the whole thing to collapse. The good zone teams have been drilling those principles since October. You can't install them in a week.

We were good enough defensively early in the year to make me think that what we need is a few practices where they work intensively on defensive fundamentals, both individually and in the broader team concepts (particularly with the bigs on when to help, hedge, and recover).


February 19th, 2013 at 8:55 AM ^

Basketball isn't football, dude. A 2-3 zone defense isn't terribly complicated. You can get as detailed as you want with how to run it (i.e. how to defend the high post, how to bump cutters, etc), but I guarantee you they practice it every week in practice along with man-to-man. 


February 19th, 2013 at 9:10 AM ^

Have you ever played on teams that were predominantly man vs. teams that were predominantly zone? I have, at pretty high levels, and it's worlds of difference in how you practice. Given Michigan's defensive philosophy to this point, they might run 2-3 in practices for 20 minutes a week, largely to work on attacking it, but that's nowhere near enough time to develop the cohesive understanding that makes a zone defense tough to play against. And there's no way to develop that in a week. 


February 19th, 2013 at 10:54 AM ^

If u played at a high level like u claim then u would know that a 2-3 or any zone defense is basically playing man D in your area. so the principals are similar. And if a college player cant get the concept of rotating as the small shifts then they need not be on the floor. Defense boils down to talking and effort. If u can do that u can be effective playing a zone.


February 19th, 2013 at 11:13 AM ^

Playing zone well is lot more than simply zonal man-to-man.

They do require similar defensive fundamentals (good stance, hard close outs) and often a good zone will look like man and vice versa, but the way you prep them in practice and play them is completely different. Different drills (so many hand-off and recover and wing/corner drills), different positional responsibilities (particularly vis a vis passing lanes), different concerns with offensive sets (you almost never have to practice on how to rotate to a skip pass when you're playing man), eyes and feet in different places in relation to the ball handler when you're playing. And add in that rebounding from a zone is quite different as there's often less contact with a defender. Teams are basically forced to choose which they will play because the prep time for each is so substantially different.

If they're so similar, why do most teams almost exclusively play either zone or man? Why don't we see more teams switching up during the game, when switching up potentially confuses forcing the offense to determine man or zone would take a chunk of the shot clock?

Space Coyote

February 19th, 2013 at 11:28 AM ^

CBS is just... wrong. Defense, for the most part in any sport, is about geometry and the elements of leverage and support. It's boils down to that in basketball, football, soccer, etc. But the type of defense you play in each makes how you leverage, how you support, etc. different. In a zone (basketball), you leverage (or in more common basketball lingo) overplay or force a player a direction very different than you do in man. Your footwork is different, your hands are different, your body position is different. You close out and rotate differently. You find a man to box out differently. It's not simply looking at what defense boils down to; it's how do you properly do the things to be fundamentally sound to correctly do the things that defense boils down to. Teams just don't have the time to do that mid-season.

It's like the people that wanted the football team to sprinkle in some triple options looks. Well it's not that easy. It's not so easy to switch from man blocking to zone blocking, so while teams may do both, they usually have one that they do the vast majority of the time, because the keys are different and you can't master both of them to be success simply switching willy-nilly from one to the other.

Space Coyote

February 19th, 2013 at 6:29 PM ^

Changing footwork doesn't mean in man you shuffle and in zone you skip around or do jumping jacks. Yes, fundamentally you still stay on your toes and play in front of the man. But in some defenses you try to keep your feet and shoulders parallel to the sideline when the ball is on the sideline, in others you try to cut off the sideline and force the ball up into your trap. Thus, your footwork is different in where you place your feet.

Footwork in the post changes considerably because of how you rotate with the ball, how you slide (the 4 sliding in a 1-3-1 is much different than how the 4 plays in a 2-3 zone), footwork isn't only on ball defense. Do you front? Do you trap? When do you slide up and when does someone slide behind you? How do you handle a ball screen (again, footwork is different if you're hedging or not, which is most likely at least partially dependent on what defense you're in). So while you don't change from shuffling to crab walking, your steps, or "footwork" do in fact change based on defense.

Also, it's "you".


February 19th, 2013 at 4:27 PM ^

its called a philosophy/style of play. Teams have a base (man or zone defense). they then work in other defenses depending on team they are playing and game situation. I played for a coach who was man to man defensive coach but like to play zone on out of bounds plays. Hell belien sprinkles in his staple 1-3-1 from time to time. So its possible to mix defenses in game and it happens all the time.

Space Coyote

February 19th, 2013 at 8:57 AM ^

So take what I have to say however you want, but I don't think the defense gets fixed enough to be a great threat to win the whole thing. Many of the issues are things that take a lot of time and work on to fix, time you don't have during the season when you're constantly prepping for the next team. Now the offense has the talent to get hot and have a chance to win it, and I think the defense is good enough to get through the early rounds, but it's going to be touch sledding to go deep.

I expect Michigan to go to a bit more 1-3-1 zone looks (with an occassional 2-3) come post-season play, just to mix it up a bit, but this is a team that is young and inexperienced on defense. Several players more than occassionally get lost playing man, and playing zone those problems only get intensified (especially when talking about open looks from 3 and rebounding). I think they are better off using their athletic ability and sticking with mostly man, and mixing in a bit more zone and the half court trap fall back into 1-3-1. The hope being just to eat up some shot clock and try to get some cheap victories on defense by delaying the other teams reaction and set or confusing them a bit; maybe get some rushed shots. 

In the end though, defense isn't purely effort. There is skill to it that most players don't really learn in high school. Currently, Stauskas gets lost regularly on defense (his vision isn't great, so when he goes to help he loses track of his man), half the team is awful at closing out (often doing it too hesitantly to not really affect shots and/or jumping at pump fakes to make up for the poor close-out giving open looks in the lane), communication has been poor (probably a bit of a reflection of Morgan being out, but it's pretty clear that McGary isn't ready in this department and Horford has had his issues there as well), and lastly rebounding has been an issue as far as actually finding the body to box out and then holding ground and getting hands up to actually grab the rebound (and frankly, during the PSU game, simply getting the numbers to crash in and attack the ball to even get defensive rebounds was missing, too many players trying to get out in run or simple laziness - which should be able to be fixed but you hate to see - are issues).


February 19th, 2013 at 9:25 AM ^

Defense isn't just TRY HARDER!!!! with a maniac coach running around in practice getting in players' faces. And they can't just switch to being a zone team...nothing like confusing young players more then introducing a new concept. Yes, they can sprinkle in some zone to keep teams off-balance, but if they play it to much they'd eventually get exposed.

There are 2 things to focus on: 1) cut down dribble penetration. A lot of players are young aka weak physically and don't anticipate. The imrpvoement needs to come from other players being "up the line", meaing, closer to the ball and ready to give help. A lot of times the threat of help will keep people form penetrating. 2) Knowing when to switch and when not to. More teams are running pick the picker type sets and a lot of our younger players are getitng lost. This leads to open 3's and bad closeouts. A lot of teams (like PSU) are faking a screen and slipping it, leaving indecsion on the defense whether or not to switch. Young players need to learn to communicate.

There is no quick fix...hopefully we'll see some improvement with more practice time.

Space Coyote

February 19th, 2013 at 10:43 AM ^

With your line "picking for the picker", and alluded to it a bit, but one of the biggest things young players struggle with is the concept of helping the helper. From my somewhat limited knowledge of basketball concepts, I do know that this team really struggles helping the helper. For those unfamiliar with the term (not trying to sound arrogant here, I'm by no means a basketball know-it-all, but realize some aren't as familiar), "help" defense isn't just the initial defender sliding over (the person I'm responding to hit the nail on the head about being up the line) but also being able to help the man that is forced to slide over because the on-ball defense is weak.

Again, this takes a lot of work and is difficult to fix immediately.

State Street

February 19th, 2013 at 9:14 AM ^

We finally have the length on the wings that makes the zone so lethal...need to be using it more.  Especially as a change-up look when the opposition starts going on a run.

Stauskas, Levert, Hardaway, and McGary...that amount of length and athleticism is insane and we need to utilize it more.  Getting burned in the man-to-man is depressing.


February 19th, 2013 at 9:29 AM ^

They are not sound fundamentaly on man defense. Players hands are low all the time, they dont close out well, footwork is bad etc. All those little things matter we have athletic kids not to mention that we have a lot of youth and teams like IU and State and wisky have vets who can expose you at will. The effort is there but the technique is not. This is either from the staff or the kids are just that bad on defense. They could just be that bad because when you are an elite high school player you dont have to play defense like you do in the big ten. Very rarely do you play someone as talented as you so you get lazy and bad on defense.


February 19th, 2013 at 9:35 AM ^

Does anyone else notice we seem to switch almost every ball screen? This creates matchup advantages for opponents. I personally dislike this strategy, it's kind of "lazy" defense.


February 19th, 2013 at 3:15 PM ^

is it leaves the backside open as our big men overhedge or switch. This is where the offensive rebounds come into play. You have Mitch jumping the screen, which he should, but he does for too long (this is the difference between Mitch and Morgan, Morgan hedges for a shorter time) and as Mitch rushes back to his man, the shot gets off and it leaves GRIII with a significant height disadvantage due to Mitch being out of position. Now I've never been a proponent of switching because as previously stated, the mismatches are generally too great a risk to sacrifice to stop a slightly more open 3 pointer. I'll take a 3 over GRIII vs Zeller anyday of the week. You can replace him with any half decent offensive B1G big man in his place and I'll still say the same thing. On top of this, teams have noticed our switches up high and they just do a quick pick and roll off the high ball screen with a wide open middle of the floor with our big men covering their guards.

Feat of Clay

February 19th, 2013 at 9:55 AM ^

They grow up and gain experience.

Seriously, a hefty slice of our team are facing collective talent the likes of which they have never seen in high school play.  They are learning on the job.  

Remember how young this team is.  Experience is going to be a great teacher, so I feel like the problem is solving itself if we can just hang on and bear through the process.


February 19th, 2013 at 10:00 AM ^

I agree that there are some schematic concepts on defense that young players may be behind on, but this team plays very very soft.  Even on offense, there is a huge tendency towards standing around and looking for a long three vs attacking the basket.

On defense, there are just too many times that players are NOT cutting off the dribble, getting their hands up in the passing lanes, and playing oley defense......basically they should be playing this over and over and over    until they can get the players to understand you have to get in front of your man on the dribble, keep them out of the lane, and block out on defense.  

On way too many plays, guys are simply watching offensive rebounds multiple players are not even looking to block out on rebounds as well, but they are ready to fly down the court on a fast break, so to me it is an energy and effort issue in both cases.  You cannot let someone beat you to the lane and you cannot let your man go on yeah, the idea that it is such a huge schematic challenge to get people to play hard is BS in my opinion.


February 19th, 2013 at 10:11 AM ^

playing more up tempo, pressing a bit here and there. i think michigan's offense is better and more varied when they can run a bit rather than in the half-court. if they pressed more, they might give up a few more transition baskets, but might scrounge a few more turnovers and score more points and get Robinson more involved and Hardaway more involved.


February 19th, 2013 at 3:07 PM ^

....the problem is though, that guards are the ones bringing the ball up the floor out of the backcourt. This then leaves Burke to be the one guarding the inbounds and working hard to stay with his man and making the opposing teams offense work hard to cross halfcourt (obviously this is ideal). But because of this, Burke then must be subbed out more frequently leaving Spike (don't get me wrong, I love how the kid plays, he just doesn't have confidence yet) to run the offense. As we can all agree, Burke is our playmaker and until we can get another guy to step up into that role, it's hard to sacrifice Burke's minutes to a younger, less-confident Spike. Hardaway is a catch and shoot guy, GRIII is also too nervous to do much other then catch and dunk, and Stauskas is more of a second or third option rather than first. If we can get another offensive playmaker at the pointguard position (funny how with offense comes defense), I actually think we could be a much better defensive team. 


February 19th, 2013 at 10:16 AM ^

Our defense is never going to be good this season. But we could be average. I do not see the same effort on the defensive end that I see on offense. D is usually the last thing that freshmen develop. It isn't emphasized as much in high school and AAU, with some exceptions. i think we need to mix our defenses more to keep the opposing off balance. I'm not talking every possession, but every once in a while just to mix it up. Stauskas is a liability on d. He's just not good at it. That's alright, he's young. But i think Levert should get a few of his minutes b/c he is a solid defender. We have enough firepower in the backcourt that I am not too worried about the drop off in offense b/w the two. Our big men are overcommitting on the hedge and McGary is out of position quite often. That is something that will get fixed as he gets older, but we need Morgan back b/c, despite his physical limitations, he is usually in position on d.

We give up alot of offensive boards, mostly b/c our big men have to help b/c our guards are letting people by on the perimeter. That has to be fixed. None of our guys are gonna get more skilled over the next few weeks, but they can try harder. It won't fix everything but it will help. We are bad at "fighting" through screens. Just awful sometimes. That may be why our bigs overcommit.


February 19th, 2013 at 10:26 AM ^

One observation not mentioned yet: Burke takes way too many plays off on defense. Partly, this is a result of him dominating the ball on offense, partly it's the coaches leaving him in for too long, and partly it's just on him not giving the effort he should.

THJr is always going to be a bad on-the-ball defender. This really rears it's head when he's going up against a guy like Olidipo (sic). He's fine against outside shooters, I think.

Stauskas could become a decent defender in a couple years, but it's not going to happen this year.

GRIII needs to play more physical. He also a big culprit with on some of the fundamental issues -- not getting his arms up or closing out quickly on shooters.

How does Michigan turn it's defense around? I don't see it happening with this current group. Outside of McGary, I don't see a guy that's likely to become an elite defender. The good news is that Irvin and Walton are pretty good defenders...I think.