Inside the Play: Michigan struggles to defend Michigan State cross screens

Dylan Burkhardt
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Michigan State consistently attacked the Michigan defense with an array of different looks off of low cross screens out of a 1-4 set. The basic formation is pictured above and the Spartans almost always used Derrick Nix and Draymond Green as the screeners in this look. The sets not only did a great job of getting Michigan State’s guards the ball in a dangerous area, they also allowed Michigan State to get the ball to Draymond Green in an area of the floor where Michigan had no answer defensively.

As Green and Nix set screens on the block, you will see Wood and Kearney cross and force Matt Vogrich and Tim Hardaway Jr. to communicate a quick switch. This seems simple but already puts a strain on Michigan’s defense and communication as the play is just beginning.

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Hardaway gets lost on the screen while Vogrich originally appears to have the play read effectively and starts out with a half step ahead of Wood.

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As both Michigan State players curl around the screens, Vogrich isn’t strong enough to fight through Green’s pick and finds himself caught in the screen and a couple of steps behind Wood.

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Trice gets Wood the ball in the right spot and he’s able to catch the ball while curling and take two strong dribbles toward the basket.

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Vogrich is out of position, trying to catch up and riding Wood’s back hip. Novak doesn’t help, opting to stay with Draymond Green and Wood has a clear path to the basket. Wood gets to the middle of the paint extremely easily in a position to attack.

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Wood comes to a simple jump stop, pump fakes and goes up strong as Vogrich flies in late with the foul.

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Here’s the play in full motion:

Michigan State ran this motion repeatedly and Michigan was simply unable to defend it, many times because of small tweaks that the Spartans made. About a minute later, Michigan State is going to start out with a slightly different look but end up in the same set. Here the Spartans will have both guards cut into the paint from the top of the key before curling off of the screens.

Sequence 01_9023

Trice and Wood will serve as a cutters here, while Brandan Kearney will distribute the ball.

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After cutting down the lane, Trice and Wood actually won’t cross, opting instead to use a v-cut and curl into the screens on their original sides of the court.

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Again Michigan State looks to the far side of the court where Kearney finds Wood wide open to receive the ball in a a good position yet again – the same spot as the previous play.

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In this instance, Novak is going to help off the screen because he knows that Wood had gone up with the shot on the previously documented possession. Douglass is washed up in the screen and if Novak doesn’t help this would be another bucket for Wood.

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Rather than jump stop and go up to shoot, Wood makes the smart drop off pass to Novak’s man, Draymond Green, who had drifted away from the paint just enough for an open jump shot.

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Green is left with an easy 15-foot jump shot in what is probably his favorite spot on the floor and naturally knocks it down.

Sequence 01_9071Sequence 01_9080

In full motion:

Michigan State kept running these double cross screens because Michigan didn’t seem to have an answer defensively. This was a great way for Tom Izzo to get Draymond Green the ball in that 15-foot baseline area where he can be so efficient. Green knocked down that mid-range jumper but was also able to put the ball on the floor, distribute, go baseline, post up Novak and hit the turnaround jumper. Michigan defended well on a couple of possessions, one time drawing a charge as Green drove, but wasn’t nearly consistent enough defending this look. Here’s another example where Michigan State goes to the near side of the court and uses the cross screens to setup a nice post isolation for Draymond Green:

  • Ken

    This is a situation where Beilein would usually drop into a zone. Problem is we don’t have the length to play a 1-3-1 effectively like Beilein likes to. It will be nice to next year have Burke, GRIII (6’6″) THJ (6’6″) McGary (6’10”) and Morgan (6’9″) so we don’t have to play man all the time with the quick rotation on the post guys that gives up so many of the open shots in the corner. This shows how good of a coach Izzo is. Notice how big his lineup is on the last one with Nix, Dawson, and Draymond all on the floor and 6’7″+. That makes it VERY tough to guard that offense.

    • Was thinking about doing a post about our zone in that game but as you say it was a big problem. The 2-3 we tried to collapse around Appling and they ran simple action, sometimes with a screen to get Trice an open 3. Several other times they got in the lane collapsed everything and ended up with very easy looks. Zone has been effective at times for U-M this year but wasn’t at all on Sunday. 

      • Ken

        I just don’t love the 2-3 against a team like MSU that’s so cerebral. They are going to pass to the wing on the side opposite Draymond, then skip pass across to Draymond’s wing who will quickly feed him in the post with a rotating guy where he is in perfect position to pump fake/shoot or dish to Nix/Payne for a bunny. I just think the 1-3-1 is better suited for it, and forces them to dribble a lot more by taking away those money “Izzo” passing lanes. 

  • sane1

    I think that we could have pressured the passer tighter to make the play more difficult. In the sequence where Kearney has the ball out high, Vogrich is playing 5 feet off him, making it easy for Kearney to make the entry pass. If Vogrich had simply played Kearney tight, even forcing him to put the ball on the floor, the play could have been stymied. Maybe Kearney gets past Vogrich on the dribble, but then they’re improvising – something that Kearney probably doesn’t do that well.

  • Tom_McC

    I think it is really important to stress that regardless of what UM’s plan was, it just wasn’t executed with the proper precision in order to give UM a chance to win.  Sometimes, stuff like this happens.  As fans, we think it shouldn’t happen in a rivalry game but the fact of the matter is, on the road, sometimes it takes just a couple of things to go awry(like what occurred to UM in the first 4 mins) and the whole thing more or less falls apart.

    Not suggesting UM quit or didn’t mend some of their issues…but as a whole it just wasn’t a crisp enough performance to combat MSU’s play.  Even the cross screen stuff…I don’t think UM handled it that bad…it just wasn’t where it needed to be given how MSU was playing.  Overall, UM just seemed a bit passive in relation to MSU and that was really the difference. Anytime UM gave MSU the slightest inch, MSU took advantage and anytime MSU gave UM the slightest crack to get something done, UM wasn’t able to take advantage.

    This was a classic CBB road loss, IMO.

  • Brick93

    In Vogrich’s defense, that was a moving screen.  The hip check was pretty obvious.  You are not supposed to be able to slide into a player and knock them back.

    • rlcBlue

      Three highlights, three moving Green screens. Nothing like home cooking…

      • Jeff

        Was about to post the same thing. It seems like any one of those could have been called. Green is a really smart player. Every time I watch him I marvel that he doesn’t get called for more fouls. I think he knows how far he can push it. Just that little extra shoulder or hip made a big difference on those plays.

        Great feature, BTW.

  • gpsimms

    definitely been my favorite feature on the blog, lately.  thanks.

    • Jeremy S

      Agreed.  Outstanding analysis and very fun to read.  Thanks!

  • SamGoBlue

    IMO Izzo gets too much credit for being a “great” offensive mind. It’s pinpointed pretty well here, but if you really watch a whole State game closely, paying attention to their offensive sets, but the end of the game you should be pretty proficient in the three or four total sets that they run. They run the double crosses shown here, the V back screen cuts to the elbow, and they run another set signaled by a closed fist I believe in which two bigs set a screen right in a row for one wing player who runs to the other side of the court.

    I think with the cross-cuts seen here, it may be easier to cut under the screen instead of chasing the player around the screen constantly; the bigs are staying down low, so even if they did try to hurt this strategy by cutting back, we would have two guys guarding the bigs who would probably also be in pretty good position to prevent an open passing lane to the wings who could potentially cut back to the basket.