Inside the Offense: Early Hand Off


John Beilein was voted best offensive coach in the country by his peers in an anonymous poll by CBS Sports. In honor of Beilein’s offense, we enlisted the help of Gibson Pyper of HalfCourtHoops (@HalfCourtHoops) to break down some of Beilein’s most effective sets.

Today we start with the early dribble hand off. This is a great set to examine because it shows how effective Michigan can be in unsettled and transition situations despite not being thought of as a traditional running team. Here are Pyper’s thoughts on Michigan’s early dribble hand off action:

What makes the early dribble hand off so effective?

A component of Michigan’s offense that can make it so tough to guard is because from the moment that they gain possession, their offense starts. A large component in the “Half Court” or Motion Offense is the hand off, and this begins in their Early Offense when they look to attack before the defense can get set. Since Michigan’s offense employs up to 4 guards at a time, they look to push the ball and find a guard on the wing or trailing for a hand off to look to get a quick shot, or attack off of the dribble.

What is the most common defensive counter and how does Michigan stop that action?

This action can be very difficult to guard, especially in transition defense when players are scrambling and may not have the matchup they expected. Good defensive teams more often than not will switch on the hand off, or the guard defending will jump out to prevent an easy look at the rim. To counter this, Michigan has the Big man who trails the floor set a “Drag” Ballscreen or an early ballscreen in transition to have the guard attack off of if he is covered. In transition defense, the majority of bigs sprint to the rim to prevent layups, since that is where their man runs to 90% of the time. In Michigan’s offense, bigs normally operate in the high post area so it is natural to run there in transition and the ballscreen can flow right out of the hand off.

What needs to happen to run an effective early dribble hand off?

In order to execute this action quite a bit needs to happen. First, this must be drilled in practice and taught in the transition portion of practice. To catch and shoot in transition is not an easy shot, so drilling this to become a habit is a must. Second, you must teach Big men to find the ball in transition and set ballscreens for the guard with the ball. In combination with both of these things happening, guards who run the floor to the “Dead Corner” and the Wings must read where the hand off and ballscreen is occurring and be able to “Lift” or move on the wings to fill open space and occupy defenders.

Who is best suited on Michigan’s roster to execute out of early dribble hand off sets?

This action will be very effective for players like Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert and Derick Walton to attack early in transition for quick shots as well as attacking off of the ballscreen. Players like Irvin and LeVert who can catch and shoot off the hand off, or look to attack quickly before the defense can get set.

What makes Beilein’s early dribble hand off action unique to the the college game?

This action is not a common occurrence in college basketball as very few teams can accomplish early scoring like Michigan can. Executing a hand off into a quick shot requires a player type that Beilein recruits, and the ability to make this shot is drilled in practice. The ability to have 3-4 guards who can attack early and all shoot is a luxury that few teams have, and Michigan can specialize in sprinting to the 3-point line and look to score early, forcing the defense to react and guard outside, leaving more space to attack.

  • mirepoix

    Great post, love this kind of stuff — can’t wait until hoops season!

  • toblav

    Nice. Thanks.

  • Bluerev

    Great analysis. Question I have always had is could we ever add a bit more crashing the offensive glass to our offense while still defending potential opposing fast breaks? I have learned to basically not doubt JB over the years in anything, but I just wonder if somehow we can’t have 2-3 guys hitting the offensive boards, allowing for 2-3 to fall back into defense, while adding 3 more opps per game! If the skill set was lacking in the past, this year’s personnel has what it takes.

  • Mattski

    This is cool. I have noticed this, but just thought it was more opportunistic than planned. Cannot wait for bball to get started.

  • bobohle

    Dylan, as usual a great write up.

  • Wayman Britt

    Good analysis. One problem Beilein’s offense has had trouble with is when Bo and Tom force the hand off way out beyond the three point line and over play the wings ( lock the rails). With no low post threat, UM is forced to pass or dribble 26 to 28 feet from the basket. I think this year Doyle may help with a low post threat when UM may need it.