Film Room is back! At some point, I will do a piece regarding the offense and how Gonzaga uses their ball screens to get easy looks for the entire roster. But between the comment section here and my poll on Twitter, it appears that 65 percent of you wanted a breakdown of defense. So that’s what we are doing today. For what it’s worth, Gonzaga’s defense has moved in to the Top 40 nationally in adjusted efficiency. After the UNC game, their efficiency was 97.5. As of Tuesday night, it’s down to 94.8. In that same time frame, Tennessee’s defense has increased nearly two points. Obviously the quality of opponents is very different, but it still shows the growth on the defensive end the last six weeks.
Yoeli Childs and Isaiah Pineiro are both top five scorers in the West Coast Conference. Last week, Gonzaga faced off against each of them, with varying degrees of success. On the surface, they are very similar players. They are both 6’8 forwards and start pretty much every possession on the perimeter. They are excellent in ball screens and rebound with ferocity. Gonzaga held Childs to 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, but gave up 30 points to Isaiah Pineiro two days later. When you dive a little deeper, you find out that they are actually very different offensive players in very different offensive schemes. The end goal for San Diego and Pineiro is different than the end goal for BYU and Childs. Gonzaga had a much easier time defending one than the other. Let’s dive in to some film to see what I mean.
To simplify, BYU uses Childs on the perimeter as a screener and facilitator with the hopeful end goal of getting him a post touch within their actions. We’ll see the difference later on with Pineiro, but Childs is not a creator from 28 feet. If he’s not taking a catch-and-shoot three, he’s a little hesitant to drive. Most of his points come from post-ups and face-ups inside 15 feet. Eight of his 10 buckets against Saint Mary’s in their win two weeks ago were inside the paint.
BYU has two primary actions to get a post iso for Childs. The first is a little UCLA back screen (first 2 clips). The second is a weak side cross screen to free up Childs for a near side post-up (last 2 clips). Here is what it looked like against Saint Mary’s, who didn’t really double Childs all game.
Gonzaga decided they didn’t want to Childs to beat them, or even get going at all. They sent doubles his way almost every time he touched the ball inside the free throw line. Whenever Rui Hachimura was on the court, he was the primary defender. When he was off, Brandon Clarke took over. As soon as Childs touches the ball in the post, the nearest guard would double down. Here are two examples of taking away the UCLA action. The first is a double and the second is a full denial, something Rui did well multiple times.
The next two examples are doubles off BYU’s cross screen for Childs. The same principles apply. Guard drops down, the next nearest guard takes away the first pass, and Clarke and the remaining guard communicate to pick up two of three players. Whoever the doubling guard is hustles to pick up the remaining man after the pass is made. The first clip is perfection. The second clip is not the most ideal, but Gonzaga would rather live with a three from a low percentage shooter than a post move from Childs.
If you heard Mark Few’s post game interview, he mentioned that they used two different doubling schemes, one of which is familiar, and another that they hadn’t done with this group. The one above is the familiar look, a traditional guard-to-big trap, something they also did to shut down Jock Landale last season. The other one is what they did in the second half.
Gonzaga actually came out in the second half and didn’t double at all the first couple possessions. Childs hit one of his two shots in the paint. Then for the final 15 minutes, Gonzaga used a new big-to-big trap. The big-to-big trap gives them more length defensively, which hopefully stops that cross court skip pass for a three, but it also allows the quicker guards to rotate where they need to rotate instead of having one of the bigs possibly stuck on a perimeter player. If nothing else, it gives BYU another look, one that they weren’t prepared for (they weren’t prepared for a lot of things that night). It’s a subtle thing, but a nice addition from Mark Few. Here’s what their three big-to-big traps looked like. The first two work great and the third is a nice finish by Hardnett.
Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura also played the pick-and-roll well in the second half. When Childs rolled, Clarke was there to switch on to him and Hachimura picked up the leftover big. We’ll see an example of how you can counter this defense in the San Diego section.
Here’s where a problem occurred. Gonzaga, particularly Rui, had trouble figuring out what to do on pick and pops. This will become an even bigger issue with Pineiro, but let’s see what happens with Yoeli.
Look, pick and pops are incredibly difficult to defend when done correctly with capable shooters. It’s possible that Gonzaga was fine with Rui helping on drives and allowing Childs to attempt threes. But I doubt they wanted those threes to be WIDE open. Childs is a fairly capable shooter. At some point, Rui has to realize the guard has fought around the screen and they have Clarke sitting at the rim, allowing Rui to recover back to Childs on the perimeter.
Speaking of pick-and-pop defense, we’ll go ahead and start there. Because it was not great. I don’t sit in on film meetings. I don’t know what the coaching staff’s philosophy was for this game. But it seems like Rui is a step slow or overcommits to helping on screens on every pick-and-pop. Over-helping and over-committing have been problems with Rui on and off all season. All three of these clips occur in the first half. The first two are traditional pops, the third is a slip-and-pop, which should actually be easier to guard since no real screen is set.
Another problem they had was giving Pineiro too much space to shoot the ball. This is where Pineiro differs from Childs. The Toreros don’t run action to get Pineiro a post-up very often. They run offense to get Pineiro in open space on the perimeter to drive or shoot. He is a very capable three-point shooter, he can hit one dribble pull-ups, he can turn and face from 15 feet and knock down midrange jumpers. And he is excellent at driving to the rim, too. Someone who is 6’8 who can do all those things is almost impossible to guard when he’s on… Gonzaga fans know that because that’s the definition of Rui Hachimura. You have to try and make it difficult on him, which starts with contesting shots. There were several instances where there was simply too much space and he hit a fairly uncontested jumper. The first two clips are good shots by Pineiro, but you would still like to see a tighter contest. The last clip here is a big-to-big switch and Clarke doesn’t extend, similar to how Frankie Ferrari nailed two threes in the last Film Room.
Something San Diego did a couple times when Pineiro was hot in the first half was to start him in the post, run a high pick-and-roll with the other big, and have Pineiro loop to the top of the key. This forces the defense to make a decision. Remember how Clarke switched onto Yoeli Childs on the BYU pick-and-roll earlier? He can’t do that here because he’s afraid Pineiro will have a wide open three. In the meantime, Tillie and Crandall don’t fight through fast enough and USD gets an easy bucket. It’s good offense from USD and slow defense from Tillie and Crandall. Watch this one a couple times.
Of course, the defense wasn’t bad the entire game. In fact, a good portion of it was totally fine. Pinerio hit a bunch of really tough shots where you just have to tip your cap and know that he’s having one of those nights.
And there were times where that defensive effort was good enough to actually force missed shots. In the first clip, Rui defends one of the few post-ups really well. In the second clip, he denies Pineiro the ball and then eventually deflects a pass intended to Pineiro on a basket cut. The last clip is Jeremy Jones taking a charge.
Here’s what I’ll conclude with: Rui Hachimura is an excellent defender when he’s inside 15 feet. His athleticism and strength can’t be outmatched by many college players. When he’s forced to guard 28 feet and is involved with a lot of different offensive actions, he is still going through growing pains. He can be slow on screen recoveries and still gets beat off the bounce too often. They need him to keep growing because he is going to be the main defender on guys like Pineiro, or guys like Iggy Brazdeikis from Michigan and DeAndre Hunter from Virginia, who they may see down the road. Those strong, mobile, versatile forwards who can step out and shoot are usually impossible to stop, but they are going to see them in the tournament and need to at least slow them down.