Notebook: Beilein readies zone offense, emphasizes transition

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Michigan 78, VCU 53 - 10
Bryan Fuller

ATLANTA — After Florida lost to Michigan in the Midwest regional final, Gators head coach Billy Donovan said he thought Mitch McGary would be less effective against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone because there wouldn’t be the opportunities he had off the pick-and-roll game with Trey Burke.

While the pick-and-roll can still be effective against the zone, it does tend to eliminate the roll man as a primary option. Michigan will be searching for different ways to score the ball in half court sets against Syracuse’s zone.

“We have to change what we do because we’re going to see the zone for 40 minutes. We all know it,” Beilein said. “It’s something we have to practice hard at. We don’t see it very often.”

Michigan relies on a lot of isolation action with Trey Burke. Beilein knows that playing against a zone will render that portion of Michigan’s playbook somewhat useless on Saturday.

“Certainly when you play a zone defense, it’s going to negate isolation. We were able to isolate Trey a lot of times and put into two men guarding him, what we call a quick man, they’re reacting, trying to fly around the floor, find different people. The zone still gets into some of that.”

What it may call for is a diversification of the offense. If that’s the case, Michigan has been well-prepared — players like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and even Spike Albrecht have been stepping up all tournament long.

“When you have a player like Trey Burke, you get the ball in his hands as often as you can. If zone negates that, we’ll just have to do our best,” Beilein said. “Our hope is we have enough guys that see the floor that we don’t have to have the ball in one guy’s hands all the time.”

Beilein focused on Michigan’s ability to come together as one, rather than any individual.

“I think all our guys have these equal key pieces in this game, whether it’s shooting, whether it’s finding the next man, we call it the Gretzky pass, the pass that leads to the assist.  Those things which are usually very similar to most winning teams.”

Transition offense still critical

Historically, John Beilein’s teams have not been known for their fast-break ability. The scouting report on Beilein-led teams has always started behind the three point line.

Not so this year. This year’s Michigan team has attempted 34% of its field goals from behind the arc, a lower percentage than any of Beilein’s teams of the last decade. Michigan’s most efficient form of offense is undoubtedly transition. While the Wolverines are selective about when they run, they are usually successful when they do.

John Beilein said the decision to run more was made early in the year, and with a bit of trepidation given the team’s youth.

“We have been fast-breaking all year long, and we have to,” Beilein said. “We made up our minds early in the year, that is one of the things we’d like to do offensively that would be really hard with this particular team because of their youth. But they do like to run, they know how to run, we have tremendous guard play, we have bigs who know how to rebound.”

Mitch McGary is one of those bigs that knows how to rebound – and outlet pass. In the NCAA tournament, McGary has grabbed an astounding 34% of the available defensive rebounding opportunities while on the floor.

Being able to run will be especially important against Syracuse’s zone look — if Michigan can force misses and get down the court before Syracuse gets set, it will limit the effectiveness of the 2-3.

Unfortunately, that is much easier said than done. Unique among zone teams, Syracuse is extremely adept at getting back on defense and setting up quickly.

“Their transition (defense) numbers are really good for a zone team – extremely good,” Beilein said. “So, they do have good coverage coming back. Against a zone there’s two things: you want to get it up there and get to the basket before they set; and two, if they do score you want to get it up the floor quickly so you have more time to probe if you need it.”

Beilein, Boeheim share New York roots

John Beilein spent the first 20 years of his coaching career planted firmly in upstate New York. From Erie Community College to Le Moyne to Canisius, Beilein remained in one place: directly in the orbit of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

And during all that time, a relationship has developed based on mutual respect. Boeheim has been a major force in Beilein’s coaching life ever since the Burt, NY native started his career.

“It goes back for years and years,” Beilein said during a press conference at the Georgia Dome on Thursday. “Even when I first broke into coaching, going to the first clinics, Jim was talking about the 2‑3 zone back in 1975, 1976, 1977 when I began coaching as a high school coach.  Stayed consistent at community college at Nazareth.  Crossed paths at Le Moyne college in Syracuse.”

Boeheim along with his innovative — and effective — 2-3 zone had a heavy influence on basketball all over upstate New York. Beilein even said he ran a variation of Boeheim’s 2-3 when he was getting started.

“I used to play the same 2‑3 zone for a long time,” Beilein said. “Everybody in Upstate New York did, has for a long time. But found maybe I wasn’t as good at times and changed to 1‑3‑1.”

The friendship the two established during the time they worked together at coaching clinics resulted in a growing respect between the two that eventually led to Boeheim assisting Beilein in getting his first Division I coaching job.

Beilein also suspects Boeheim might have had something to do with him getting his major-conference job, at West Virginia, in 2002.

“We became friends during that time and I have had great respect for him,” Beilein said. “Along the way, he assisted me a great deal in actually getting my first Division I job at Canisius.  I believe he had something to do with me going to the Big East at West Virginia.  He was very instrumental. I followed him and respected him very much.”

But friend or not, Beilein is very much aware of the powerful coaching mind he’ll be facing on Saturday, adding that Boeheim’s intellect may extend beyond the bounds of basketball, as well.

“He’s one of the greatest minds in basketball, about anything.  The guy is smart,” Beilein said. “You ask him about college football, he’ll tell you.  You ask him about North Korea right now, he probably knows all about that.  He is a smart guy.”

  • Wayman Britt

    UM will find ways to score against Cuse, it’s the defense that will win or lose the game. UM must stop Cuse or at least make it very difficult for them to score. If Cuse keeps getting uncontested lay ups, we cannot score enough to overcome it.

  • troy

    What is the conventional wisdom on a player like Hardaway? Should he stay or should he go?

    • Wayman Britt

      It sounds like most scouts have him a second rounder in the NBA draft, then in my opinion he should stay in school for his last year. Another year of showing his leadership skills and being more consistent will serve him well.

    • Cary Bear

      There are a couple ways to look at it. He has more or less peaked as a prospect. One school of thought thinks that he might as well go because his stock isn’t going to be helped by being a year older if his game doesn’t really improve along with it. The other school of thought is that if you are peaking as a 2nd round pick anyways, then the year wont make a huge difference and you should finish out your degree, enjoy the college experience, and further develop intangible traits that come with being a senior leader on a team. Either way, I hope he does what’s best for him, he’s already given a lot tot he program and I wish him the best! Go Blue!

      • MGoTweeter

        I just wanted to elaborate a little on what you are saying because I think there are other factors involved that you do not point out. If you are looking at the decision based off those two schools of thought.

        The first is not necessarily that his game will not improve with another year, it is that his game will not improve to a level higher than what nba scouts project his game to improve to with another year of college.

        Your second point seems to be an extension of the first. In that if his game does not improve, he might as well take another year at the college level for reasons beyond his draft stock.

        I think both of these points are really the same in regards to how you view his draft stock they just differ based on his personal preference. However, there are other factors that play heavily in any decision he might make.

        Where does he potentially stack up with other players in this particular draft class? Where does he stack up with players in next year’s draft class? Does he want to spend another year in college? Or would he rather take his chances in the pro ranks regardless of whether or not he gets drafted? What is in the best interest of his family? etc.

        I think far too often we as fans look at these decisions based solely on what we perceive the players ability to be at this point in time while ignoring the other factors that play a big part in these decisions.

        Ultimately, you never know if any of these decisions to leave early are the right or wrong call. You can only hope that the player has no regrets one way or the other. As you state, I wish him the best and hope he has a lot of success regardless of what his decision is.

        • troy

          Don’t they say you should only leave school early if you’re projected to go in the first round?

          • David

            That’s the first-line heuristic. But for players like Tim who will be likely second round picks no matter when they enter, it’s often better to go pro as scouts like younger prospects.

          • Retiredat23

            Darius Morris?

        • Adam St Patrick

          “Where does he potentially stack up with other players in this particular draft class? Where does he stack up with players in next year’s draft class?” — that could very well be the most active ingredient here, if the rumor is true. But either way, Timmy’s been great here and while I’d love to have him I wouldn’t criticize his decision. It’s not an easy call.;

  • Mattski

    In an earlier interview, Boeheim stated outright that the WV AD called to ask him about Beilein and that he told the AD to look no further. I expect that may have been new to Beilein, brought to his attention, being acknowledged now.

    • Mattski

      “news” to Beilein. Alright, gotta get an account so I can mend by typos.

      • Mattski

        How DO you fix a typo?

        • mikey_mac

          Time travel. Or blackmail a dba at Disqus. I can help with both. OK, maybe only with one.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree, I don’t think Beilein knew.

  • ForeverBlue

    “After Florida lost to Michigan in the Midwest regional final, Gators head coach Billy Donovan said he thought Mitch McGary would be less effective against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone because there wouldn’t be the opportunities he had off the pick-and-roll game with Trey Burke”

    Really, you would have thought that Stauskas’ opportunities would be more etched in his brain than the 11 point performance by Mitch.