Ohio boasted the best defense in the MAC this season and the Bobcats’ defense is renowned for its ability to force turnovers. While watching Ohio’s MAC Championship win over Akron we focused on two elements of the Ohio defense. First, the ability to not only force turnovers but push the ball in transition offensively after forcing a turnover. Second, how Ohio defended Akron’s ball screen offense. After the jump we dive deeper into Ohio’s defense with video and more.
Transition Offense off of Turnovers
Ohio averages 67 possessions per game, well above the Michigan’s average of 61 and the Big Ten average of 63 possessions per 40 minutes. The only Big Ten teams that play at a similar speed are Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State. The Bobcats win over Akron in the MAC Championship was tied for their slowest game of the season at just 56 possessions but, even in a game that slow, Ohio still showed off the will to push the ball off of turnovers. Here are seven plays where Ohio forced a turnover, pushed the ball and shot the ball or turned it over before the shot clock broke 30 seconds.
As you can see in the video clip, Ohio isn’t always successful when it pushes the ball off of turnovers but the focus is clearly there. The Bobcat offense is far from efficient in the half court and any opportunities to run out and get easy points are a welcome bonus.
Combined with Ohio’s aggressive, active and gambling style of defense, easy points in transition can create a snowball effect. One quick turnover followed by an easy basket on the other end is essentially a four point swing in five seconds of clock time.
Despite forcing so many turnovers, Ohio didn’t do much out of the ordinary against Akron. The Bobcats only ran a full court press on one possession and forced most of Akron’s turnovers by playing aggressive man-to-man defense, doubling the post, the occasional trap and gambling in passing lanes. Doubling the post obviously isn’t a huge concern for Michigan, who rarely throws the ball on the block in isolation situations, and its most important for the Wolverines to be strong with the ball through Ohio’s on ball defense. Similar to Purdue, Ohio will play man-to-man defense in your grill and force you to be strong with the ball. If Michigan is able to move the ball effectively, the Wolverine offense should not only be able to exploit the gambling nature of Ohio’s defense that loves to jump passing lanes but also slow Ohio’s offense down by eliminating easy points in transition.
Ball Screen Defense
The importance of the ball screen to Michigan’s offense can’t be understated. Over the last two seasons it has gone from an occasional feature to a Wolverine staple under the tutelage of Darius Morris and Trey Burke. Burke has been lethal scoring and distributing the ball against teams that let him get comfortable and have his way on the ball screen but he’s also struggled against some defensive looks, notably the hard hedge and, more recently, Jared Sullinger “bracketing” the screen.
Akron ran quite a bit of ball screen action so we have some great examples of how Ohio could defend the ball screen on Friday:
Tendencies and Observations
Collapse the defense. Akron had a lot of success off of the ball screen as point guard Alex Abreu beat Ohio’s hedging bigs to the corner and got in the paint either to finish at the hoop or kick the ball to open shooters. Ohio’s three point defense – random as the statistic is – has been quoted quite a bit but Akron hit 9-of-12 (75%) of its three point attempts in this one. Once Akron got in the lane, Ohio’s defense would collapse around the ball penetration and leave plenty of options. Here are four occasions where Abreu got in the lane and collapsed the Bobcat defense.
Collapsing around the ball is a high risk, high reward strategy. For every example where Akron found an open pass, there was a scenario – see the last couple of clips – where Ohio’s aggressive style of play forced a turnover.
Slow recovery. Quite a few times against Akron, Ivo Baltic was slow to find his man and recover on defense after showing or hedging on the screen and roll. He drifts back to the general area of the paint but doesn’t seem to have great awareness of where his man is. If Burke shows some patience, his beg men could drift into open pockets around the lane. Eventually those struggles seemed to rattle him a bit and by the end of the game he was hesitant to show over the top, leaving open threes for Akron’s point guard.
Fouling on the hedge. Bobcat players were sometimes a little overzealous on the hedge, failing to move their feet and picking up quick fouls. Michigan has struggled to get that call from time to time in Big Ten games but NCAA tournament games are typically officiated a bit tighter and this could be an opportunity for Burke to draw some quick fouls.
Jumping the screen: Ohio is known for its ability to force turnovers and from time to time the Bobcats will jump the pick and roll, a quick trap that puts the ball handler in a precarious situation. Michigan saw a similar look against Penn State in State College and Burke struggled with this a bit. If he can be strong with the ball and split the trap, Michigan should be able to get an easy bucket.
Small pick and pop: If Ohio tries to guard Zack Novak with Ivo Baltic, Michigan should try the small version of its screen and roll offense. That means Novak at the four, acting as the screener for Burke. Ohio’s bigs don’t appear to be all that comfortable defending on the perimeter and the pick-and-pop could be an effective change of pace.