January 18, 2018
The Wildcats run out of the better offenses in the nation, and it matches up against anybody.

Davidson’s offense under head coach Bob McKillop is something mostly overlooked around the country, and rarely equalled.

The Wildcats run a true motion offense, combining an uptempo pace with a fantastic ability to read the defense. This style of play is the reason why Davidson ranks so highly in adjusted offensive efficiency on kenpom.com, where they are joined by powerhouses like Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky and Wisconsin in the top 10.

Back in January, I took a look at the basic action and concepts to McKillop’s offense. This time around, I want to specifically show how the offense operated in the team’s recent win against VCU’s havoc defense.

The beauty of Davidson’s system is in how it is dependent on taking what the defense gives you. Trail the pin down screen and the player will curl, cheat it and the player will go backdoor. VCU’s unique style of pressure defense really highlights this point. The following is a breakdown of Davidson’s execution against the havoc.

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Davidson is not an ideal team to press. The Wildcats turn the ball over on just 14.3% of possessions, good for third in the NCAA. But of course, that wasn’t going to deter VCU from trying.

Shaka Smart has two different presses that make up his havoc defense: a man-to-man press called “double fist”, and a zone press called “diamond”. A zone press can leave you very vulnerable against Davidson if you allow them to break it. The Wildcats are loaded with three-point shooters that are hard to keep track of in an extended zone defense. VCU therefore mainly tried to use “double fist” to bother Davidson.

In “double fist”, the goal is to force the ball handler to a sideline, getting him to turn his back on the action in the process. As soon as that happens, a second defender comes running in to double team. However, Davidson has capable ball handlers that were able to avoid the sidelines. Take a look below at a possession against “double fist”:

Tyler Kalinoski stays in the middle of the court, and as a result can see the extra VCU defender coming to double team. Davidson’s guards were able to avoid the element of surprise by being under control. Combine this with the fact that VCU wasn’t consistently scoring on the other end to set up the press in the first place, and Davidson was largely able to focus on its half-court offensive execution.

In their first meeting against Davidson in early January, VCU had some success slowing the high-powered halfcourt offense down. Davidson does most of their damage off the ball. Instead of relying on dribble penetration or pick and roll like many offenses, the Wildcats run their defenders through screen after screen. The opponent has to pick a way to defend the off ball screens, and Davidson quickly counters with the correct cut. However, in the first meeting, VCU made life difficult on the ball with pressure. By constantly pressuring the ball and denying swing passes, you can attempt to take Davidson out of a rhythm.

Let Davidson’s ball handlers see the floor and swing the ball freely, though, and they will pick you apart. In the rematch last week, VCU continued to pressure the ball and deny swings. But Davidson is so well-coached and prepared for pressure, and VCU had mixed results:

In the first play above, Davidson runs their normal scissor action. The play requires a simple ball reversal that teams tend to concede. VCU, unlike many teams, has the speed at all five possessions to really get into passing lanes. That aggressiveness is what led to the turnover in the first play. But the second play shows Davidson countering in a similar situation with a backdoor cut to the hoop.

According to the announcers during the game, Shaka Smart used the terminology “defeating the screen” when referring to what they must do against Davidson. This is much easier said than done, hoowever, due to Davidson’s ability to react to the defense. VCU chose to play right up against their men on the weak-side. Hit the pause button on any Davidson possession, and you are likely to find VCU defenders sacrificing help defense in favor of chasing off ball movement.

So while using athleticism and effort to “defeat” screens sounds like a decent plan, it set Davidson up for curl cuts all night long. Not only was the trailing defender vulnerable to tight curls to the basket, but the lack of help defenders opened the lane up for said curls.

In the first play above, Jordan Barham chooses the curl and gets the step on his man. VCU’s Mo Alie-Cox (a very good rim protector) sees this happening, but Peyton Aldridge’s gravity forces him to stay. If Alie-Cox gives help on Barham, you can bet your bottom dollar that Davidson finds the open three-point shot, which is exactly what happens in the second play in the video above. The defense collapses on the curl, and this time Barham knocks down a rhythm three.

Finally, an article on Davidson wouldn’t be complete with at least one look at their most common action: the double pin down. Every single opponent knows it’s coming, and yet Davidson continually picks them apart with the simple action:

Aldridge gets the easy bucket, but all the credit belongs to Brian Sullivan. Sullivan fakes as though he is going to use the screens before quickly going backdoor, getting his defender (JeQuan Lewis) way out of position in the process. This creates a chain reaction where quick decisions must be made by the VCU defenders. Instead of letting Sullivan get an easy lay-up, Aldridge’s man leaves to help. This ultimately just leads to an Aldridge lay-up when he slips to the hoop.

Davidson’s motion puts pressure on a defense unlike any other NCAA offense. The consensus bracketology projections currently project the Wildcats as a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. Whoever their opponent is come Selection Sunday, that coaching staff will be in for a daunting task of preparing for the Davidson offense on such short notice.

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Jordan Sperber

Jordan graduated from Villanova University last year. He has analyzed NCAA basketball with advanced statistics and film at thehoopvision.com since high school.

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