Film Study: Switching high ball screens

Dylan Burkhardt

John Beilein told reporters after the Michigan’s loss at Indiana that he “hadn’t seen anything like” Indiana’s defensive game plan since he’d been in Ann Arbor. Given Michigan’s meager offensive performance, it’s hard not to believe him. The Hoosiers stopped Michigan’s offensive juggernaut in its tracks on Sunday afternoon.

While much of the attention in the immediate aftermath surrounded Yogi Ferrell’s off-ball denial defense of Nik Stauskas, that was far from the only wrinkle up Tom Crean’s sleeve. Ferrell took Stauskas out of the game, but other adjustments took Michigan’s offense  completely out of its typical half court flow.

So how did the Wolverine offense – the third most efficient in the country – fail against Indiana’s defense? Simple: the Hoosiers switched screens at all five positions, including the traditional one-five high ball screen at the top of the key.

“When you’re consistently switching a certain screen that very few people switch on, it took us a while to respond,” Beilein explained on Monday’s Big Ten Conference call. “And when we did, we didn’t finish or rushed ourselves or did things. That was it. I can’t explain it any more.”

It sounds simple, but the good news for Michigan is that there aren’t many teams with the personnel capable of switching screens at the five spot. Indiana has a multitude of frontcourt options including Noah Vonleh – a defensive wild card rarely seen at this level.

First, let’s look at Indiana’s base defensive alignment.


Yogi Ferrell on Stauskas, Stanford Robinson on LeVert, Troy Williams on Walton, Noah Vonleh on Robinson and Will Sheehey on Morgan.

Indiana guarded Michigan’s three with a one, one with a three, four with a five and five with a four. The only defensive match up that was ‘traditional’ was Stanford Robinson on LeVert.

Early in the game you see Michigan running its normal offense. Jordan Morgan is going to set a screen for Caris LeVert. When Indiana switches the screen, LeVert makes the read that he’s taught: drive against the switch. The only problem is that Will Sheehey is guarding him, not a typical big man. Sheehey has the quickness to stay in front of LeVert off the bounce and is able to force a difficult shot.

Indiana’s defensive approach worked not just because it disrupted Michigan’s ball screens, but because the Wolverines couldn’t exploit a mismatch at any other positions.

Michigan tried to get Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford the ball early against the switch, but they had limited success and missed some decent opportunities.

Nik Stauskas didn’t touch the ball often, but when he did he tried to either shoot over Ferrell or take him down to the post. That’s the proper game plan, but he missed both attempts and grew frustrated.

Glenn Robinson III didn’t have the quickness to beat Noah Vonleh off the dribble and struggled all game, even against back up defensive options like Jeremy Hollowell.

While Caris LeVert struggled in the first half, he was Michigan’s best option throughout most of the game. In the second half, Michigan went with a couple LeVert-centric tweaks to its offense, including a straight isolation drive on Stanford Robinson and having LeVert reject a ball screen and drive away from the switch for an easy two. LeVert also learns how much easier it is to score when Vonleh isn’t on the floor, attacking the switch with Devin Davis in the game.

Michigan’s other adjustment was to run more ball screens with Glenn Robinson III as the screener, forcing Noah Vonleh to guard the ball screen. Indiana still switched the screen and Michigan’s guards had very little luck driving on Vonleh.

By the time Michigan figured things out offensively, it was too late because the defensive effort had deteriorated. The dismal offensive performance in the first half certainly cost the Wolverines because they were playing behind throughout the game.

Michigan could have made more adjustments and could have converted on the few opportunities when it did. The Wolverines missed a lot of opportunities in one-on-one matchups that should have been a Michigan advantage on paper. In a game that only had 55 possessions, missing a layup over a switch or botching an isolation mismatch had an even greater effect.

But at the end of the day, there aren’t many Noah Vonlehs in the Big Ten or in the country. Ferrell did a great job of negating Nik Stauskas, but Vonleh essentially negated the rest of the Michigan offense.  The good news for Michigan is that very few coaches are going to switch every screen like Indiana – and the ones that will probably don’t have a Vonleh.

  • Ryan

    What I don’t understand is since Indiana was guarding 6’6″ Stauskas with 5’10” Ferrell, why not have Stauskas bring the ball up the court and run the normal pick and roll with Morgan/Horford? Indiana would’ve switched on the pick, which puts Ferrell on Morgan/Horford (major mismatch) and Stauskas on Vonleh. I love LeVert, but Stauskas has an elite first step and better court vision. Wouldn’t he have had more success driving against Vonleh or passing off to a rolling Morgan/Horford who were being guarded by a 5’10” player? It seemed like such a waste having Stauskas stand in the corner with his hands on his hips all game.

    • The get get Stauskas involved once (see here: and he found Robinson on the roll over Ferrell.

      This was a one-four ball screen because they were able to get the switch onto Vonleh (with Sheehey on Morgan).

      The mismatch with the bigs never really materialized as you can see in the posting the switch clip above.

      • Ryan

        Interesting. Also, with Ferrell overplaying ball denial to Stauskas, where were the backdoor cuts that were so commonplace during the early years of Beilein’s tenure?

        • John

          They will be there. The backdoor is the easiest and obvious solution to the face guarding and over-playing. There is a reason it is not being deployed and I think it has to do with timing. That type of over-playing can lead to wholesale defensive breakdowns if exploited correctly. I really think that Beilein wants as much of that defense “working” against Michigan on tape as possible to essentially beg teams to play it, even to the extent he may be telling Stauskus not to take the bait just yet. The backdoor will be there when really necessary.

          • Mattski

            I would kill for more info of this kind–details, that is, of how Beilein sees himself and the coaches teaching the kids and prepping as the season goes on, the larger chess game. People have hinted about use of the 1-3-1; I wonder to what extent they figure they can concede some games down the stretch here in the service of bigger things, especially now that a tournament slot looks assured. . .

        • Nick

          It depends on which set the backdoor cut is deployed in. If Morgan or Horford is out top, and Stauskas fakes the dribble handoff action and cuts backdoor, their 5 man sinks and takes away the passing lane. He can do this because JoMo and Jon cant shoot from that range and if they do the D doesnt care.

          Stauskas did try and cut backdoor a few times and it looked like the pass was there, but it was tight and the window closes fast. They did try it but probably not often enough.

          • John

            It would not have to create a shot for Nik or Morford, the back door would force the entire D to rotate and would create an open look somewhere. At some point in the season, it will deployed with regularity and will be effective. I am almost positive JB is playing possum with that. We could be killing people with it. (If the shots fall)

    • guestavo

      Stauskas does not have an “elite first step.” Ironically, his lack of an elite first step is why Yogi Ferrell could shut him down. LeVert is the one guy on our team with an “elite first step” but his vision isn’t there, just yet.

  • Tom_McC

    Quite frankly, I think the ‘scheme’ employed by Indiana is overrated. From my vantage point, I think UM’s struggles had far more to do with heavy legs and a lack of matching Indiana’s energy.

    I’m not dismissing IU’s strategy…but I think if UM is playing as lively as it had the previous 8+ games, the offense would have seen better results. I know JB paid lip service to IU’s swithcing scheme but I don’t think the scheme was as foreign as he made it sound.

    Again, credit to IU for changing things on UM but I bet JB is most disappointed with his team because they didn’t adjust. Put it another way…if IU tries that scheme again, I’d guess UM has no issue with it and it won’t take hours of practice prep to solve the IU D.

    And back to my main point, I think the IU game has far more to do with UM playing a step slow mentally and physically on both ends and IU just having more energy and executed their plan better. IU won several key loose balls, corralled O-boards and UM missed a bunch of critical FT’s and took some awful shots in transition and in the half-court. That is something that hasn’t been present over the the last 8 weeks or so and I think it is BY FAR the biggest reason UM lost.