Inside the Play: Backdoor screens shred Indiana defense

Dylan Burkhardt
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Michigan attempts more threes than any other Big Ten team but an unheralded strength of the Wolverine offense this season has been its ability to convert around the basket. Despite trotting out a lineup that ranks 247th in effective height, without a true low post scorer and with a handful of players that are known for their perimeter shooting more than anything else, Michigan is the 6th best two point shooting team in the Division I. The pick-and-roll’s growth in Beilein’s offense has been discussed Ad nauseam but that doesn’t mean traditional elements of John Beilein’s offense have been forgotten.

In this edition of Inside the Play we look at how Michigan used the backdoor screen against Indiana led to three different easy opportunities around the rim for three different Michigan players.

1. Stu Douglass uses Morgan’s backscreen

This set starts with Burke passing the ball to Douglass and cutting through the paint. Douglass will move the ball to Hardaway on the wing and begin his action as well.

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Above you can see Burke using Morgan’s first screen, which isn’t quite enough to get open.Sequence 01027

Derek Elston stays home and prevents Hardaway from dumping the ball to Burke, who instead continues out to the far wing. Next, Douglass will look to use Morgan’s pick to free himself.Sequence 01033

Morgan sets a strong screen and Douglass comes off of it cleanly, shoulder to shoulder. This is the most important element of the play and what allows Douglass to roam free all the way to the hoop.

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Matt Roth is wiped out in the screen and Derek Elston finds himself lost in no mans’ land. Elston steps up instead of worrying about Douglass cutting to the basket and it will cost him dearly.Sequence 01045

There’s no Indiana help from the wings as Oladipo and Watford are both spread to the corners due to the shooting threat of Burke and Novak. Hardaway is letting his pass go as Douglass hits the elbow and it’s one of the easiest backdoor passes he’s thrown in his career. Sequence 01050

Douglass catches the ball cleanly and finishes with the easy alley-oop lay-in.

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Full Play:

2. Tim Hardaway Jr. uses Smotrycz’s screen for a monster dunk

This is almost identical action but Hardaway, rather than Douglass, serves as the significantly more athletic cutter. The Wolverines are spread on the court in similar fashion and Hardaway begins the set with a basic pass to the wing. This time Smotrycz is going to bring the screen to him.

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Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller fall victim to Smotrycz’s screen but the principles remain the same. As Smotrycz sets the screen, Hardaway will run right through it without even setting it up with a v-cut or anything similar. Oladipo runs right into the screen and Cody Zeller doesn’t seem to call out the pick or help on Hardaway.

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You can see Zeller step up to the ball side against Smotrycz which means Hardaway has him beat. One quick hand in the air and the rest is history.

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Michigan’s spread offense leaves the middle of the paint completely open and Hardaway throws down the uncontested alley-oop.

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Michigan ran almost this exact same play last year in the second half against Michigan State at home with the only exception being that Darius Morris was the passer rather than Trey Burke.

Full Play:

3. Novak gets fouled on backdoor attempt

This action is similar but Novak helps utilize his shooting ability to set up the screen.

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Novak, while dribbling across the floor, reverses the ball to Hardaway on the opposite wing.Sequence 01149

Michigan loves to run a set where Novak starts to cut to the basket but pops out to the three point line and ends up with an open look. That’s a constant threat that opposing defenses must honor but, in this case, Smotrycz is actually poised to set a screen for Novak to cut to the basket.

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Novak sets up this screen beautifully, stepping back before running Sheehey right into Smotrycz. Sequence 01162

Novak has Sheehey beat by a wide margin and Tom Pritchard, who should have called out the screen to Sheehey, doesn’t provide any help, spending most of his time watching the ball.

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All Sheehey can do is grab Novak’s jersey and he’s lucky to give up the foul rather than the easy layup. Sequence 01173

Full Play:

All three of these plays might be better examples of bad defense than great offense but they also emphasize the ways in which Michigan has been able to find easy baskets within its base offense. While the plays look simple, they still require the passer, cutter and screener to all be on the same page and be comfortable in their roles.

The ball screen has emerged as a major portion of Michigan’s offense and has certainly been effective but these simple sets from the base offense still play a critical role. The Wolverines’ best offensive performances come when both elements of the attack are working effectively. The sheer wealth of different looks that Michigan’s opponents have to prepare for also make it difficult for any opponent to game plan.

  • JimC

    Cool post!  JB’s system of having 3 or 4 three-point shooters on the floor keeps defenders from packing the paint, helping to make these plays work.

    And not wanting to dork out on stats, but “effective height”…..?    Never mind, I don’t want to know.

    • ScottGoBlue

      I’m pretty sure it’s the total height of your line up, divided by the minutes played.

      • gpsimms

        it’s slightly more complicated than that, if i remember right.  it has to do with whether or not a player is big for his position as well.

    • Explanation of KenPom’s stat:

  • MGoTweeter

    Definitely shows the great design of Michigan’s offense, but I think Dylan hit the nail on the head with the statement that these are better examples of bad defense.  If I was an IU fan I would be appalled to look at this.  No wonder that team has been terrible on defense this year.  

    First, you have absolutely no ball pressure on the passer despite the fact the guy is clearly looking to make a pass.  Second, the screener’s defender makes no attempt to bump the cutter on any of these plays.  In fact on the last one it looks like the defender actually makes an attempt to move out of the way of the cutting Novak.  Third, the weak side defender is locked up with his man and not thinking about help side at all.  In the first clip, Hardaway has no chance at all at getting the ball to Novak cleanly, yet Watford still is closer to Novak than he is to the key.  

    I have no idea what they are teaching the IU defenders to do, but this is basically teaching them to not play defense.  I guess their defense may be predicated on taking away passing lanes, but that gets negated thanks to the lack of ball pressure (eventually someone is going to come open).  Even if it was a play tight, deny all passes defense, you gotta have some help for screens especially from a player that is guarding a guy two passes removed from the play.

    • gpsimms

      was thinking the same thing.  watford’s d is a joke on that first one.

      • There’s a reason Watford was benched for long stretches…

  • JimC

    Also, on a different (and maybe controversial) topic: do you want Draymond Green healthy on Sunday?

    I would vote………No!   But I hope he feels much better on Monday.
    Our players are more mature about it,

    • Giebz

      My gut says no, but Michigan (Novak) owns Green.  So let him play.  I don’t want any excuses when we beat them again.

    • rlcBlue

      I say yes – I don’t want him puking on our guys and getting them sick.

      Oh, you meant the knee…

  • Mattski

    Great stuff! And people said the spread couldn’t work in the B1G!

  • GregGoBlue

    I love these so much. Keep ’em coming Dylan. 

  • Tom_McC

    Some other things to remember…all 3 of those players who were the beneficiaries of the ‘back’ screens were also shooters.  If their defenders try and cheat under the screen they go to a ‘check’ screen(which is a read, not a call) that should result in an open 3.  Add to that, on almost all of these ‘back’/’check’ screens the screener will immediate set an on-ball screen for the passer(assuming the pass isn’t made).  It really puts the screeners defender in a bind because he should help on the back/check screen and if he does, he’ll be late helping on the ball screen.

    I should also mention…none of what you see above are ‘set plays’…they are part of the UM’s motion offense…they simply are just reads by the players.  When the timing is good, the cuts are crisp and the reads are made properly, it is really a handful to defend.  Against the more athletic, long teams…this stuff is more difficult to execute because the level of precision has to be almost perfect…but it’s good to see them execute so well now and could be a glimpse of things to come. 

    • Yep. They are all reads which is why I wanted to put some clips together of the other reads but it was late and I settled for this. That will have to be the next post :-)

    • rlcBlue

      Having the offense explained in great detail should also help those who think that Brundidge must not be good because he’s not getting playing time, or that Robinson, Stauskas, and McGary will immediately get 25+ minutes a game next year. The stuff we do (on both offense and defense) is unlike the high school or AAU game. Even among the kids that Beilein recruits, it’s very rare to find one who can step into the lineup and contribute. (Pauses for silent Trey Burke appreciation).

  • skitchbeatz

    Dylan, you ruined half of our plays. I’m pretty sure Izzo reads this blog.