A few weeks ago, Drexel took on “giant killer” UMBC at the DAC. From all indications, as the first 20 minutes came to an end, they had things well in hand as they found themselves on top by eight points. The remarkable thing about the second half was not that UMBC outscored Drexel by 23 points but rather that Drexel outscored UMBC’s leading scorer by just six. Not six points for the full 40 minute game, but six points for the half. K.J. Jackson was able to put up 27 points in 20 minutes. He came into that night averaging just 9 a game, and as of the time of this writing, Jackson has scored just 29 total points in his two games following their win over Drexel.
In today’s article, we are going to take a look at a couple of plays featuring Jackson and try to break down what happened defensively. First, it should be realized that in the second half of play, Zach Spiker used four players to cover Jackson: Cam Wynter Matey Juric, and for brief periods of time Troy Harper and Coletrane Washington. He also had the team playing a 3-2 zone briefly that featured a play that we will break down here.
All screen captures are from the Stretch Internet broadcasts of the games. the pictures are provided to capture the process of the plays. To get a better look, clicking on each picture will make it larger.
This first play features Cam Wynter covering Jackson. UMBC sets a pick at the top of the key that would have allowed Jackson to go to his right and straight up the gut of the lane. Everyone, including Cam Wynter, thought he was going that way. Instead, he cuts back to his left and gets a step on Wynter. James Butler steps off of his man and tries to position himself ultimately putting himself a little too far out of the key instead of between Jackson and the basket. He sets his feet, but because of his positioning Jackson is easily able to move around him preventing Butler from drawing a charge or making an attempt to block the shot. Instead, he gives up a soft reach in foul and gives Jackson the three point play.
This is a failure on the help defense side. K.J. Jackson showed himself to be a fast player, and there were lots of opportunities for him to both take picks and play off of them. Defending the key is more than just a one man job, and when you have someone who shows the straight line speed that Jackson did, the “bigs” need to step into the lane and help out.
This second example also shows a breakdown in the help defense. Tim Perry Jr. this time is cheating towards the center of the court. Jackson, out on the right wing covered by Juric this time, takes the pick from Perry’s man and drives to the hole. Because of where he’s positioned, Perry is unable to get between himself and the driving player and gets beat baseline. Jackson uses his body and the basket to shield himself for a reverse layup, and Trevor John is not in position to do anything because of his man on the perimeter.
Not every play was a complete letdown though. This third example shows good help defense, but a breakdown in the transition back to the guard. Wynter gets picked and Alihan Demir steps off of his man and into the lane briefly halting Jackson’s progress. The problem comes when they try to transition back to Wyner on the coverage. Because of where the freshman was coming from, when they tried to switch back out, Jackson essentially had a step on Wynter and was able to drive to his left. In this case, Demir would have probably been better served remaining on Jackson.
Drexel does not play zone very often, but when they do, they need to be aware of where they create weak spots. After starting off the possession in what looked like a 3-2 with Butler at the top, UMBC missed a shot and snagged an offensive rebound. There seemed to be some confusion following, as Butler ended up considerably deeper with the zone now looking like a 2-1-2. Jackson saw it as well and he dribbled, unmolested into the center of the zone and takes what would be the closest thing to a mid-range that he shot for the half. The key to effective zone play is to know your assignment and stick to it. This might have just been a case of miscommunication on the court, but it cost the team two points none the less.
Last season, Jackson would not have had the success that he did. With Austin Williams patrolling the paint, guards were more reluctant to drive on the Dragons because they knew what was waiting for them. Those who decided they were up for the challenge had to work for their points when Stretch was on the floor. It shows in the stats too. Last year at the 12 game mark, Drexel was averaging a respectable 4.1 blocks per game. This year they are at just 2.1, and six of those blocks came against Bryn Athyn. Remove those from the equation and Drexel’s average drops to 1.7 in 11 games.
For comparison’s sake, take a look at this play from last year’s 68-67 victory over Northeastern. This play is from late in the second half, and it looks a lot like how UMBC and K.J. Jackson were able to exploit us on the drive a few weeks ago. Here, Devon Begley is being covered by Tramaine Isabell. Austin’s man, ThomasMurphy, sets the pick at the top of the key. Williams is able to get himself positioned in the key to challenge Begley.
Ultimately, Stretch got the block, but that does not have to be the end result here. Even if he did not block Begley’s shot, he was well positioned to force Begley to alter his attempt, or maybe even draw a charge. This is the kind of “help” defense the Dragons need to play this year if they want to help out their guards.
When we started looking over these replays, it was expected that we would watch our young, inexperienced guards just getting beaten by a player who was quicker than they were. It is a give and take, really. If guys think that they can be quick enough to tightly guard a player, then go for it, but so far this season, that does not seem to be the case. The choices then are to soften up the defense a bit, or get more help from the other players on hedges and switches off of picks. Simply put: Drexel needs to do a better job protecting the lane againspotential drives.
Tim Perry Jr showed that he is capable of doing just that. Here, after Jackson just beats Juric clean with a drive to Jackson’s right, Perry hedges off of his man, shows good foot speed to clog the lane, and goes straight up, not reaching over to potentially draw a foul, causing Jackson to change his shot, and even getting a piece of the ball forcing is out of bounds. This is the kind of play that Drexel needs in their help defense. They don’t need four blocked shots per game, they just need to change the opposition’s shots to try and force a miss.
Decisions on defense need to be made a moment’s notice and it is easy for us to sit here and break down film to find where things went wrong. While hindsight is always 20/20 so are Kenpom statistics, and they largely confirm what can be seen here: Drexel needs to find a way to defend better.
While the guard play was aggressive resulting in a few missed first steps, the help defense in the lane needs to be better this season. Tim Perry Jr and James Butler lack the shot blocking prowess that Austin Williams possessed, but putting themselves into a position where they can effectively change a player’s shot or even draw a charge would go a long way in reducing our opponents’ points in the paint, and with the way our defense has been performing through out of conference play, every point is going to count this year.