Kentucky Basketball: The "Switch Everything" Defense, Who Can Run it and Who Can't

This was a team that could run Denny Crum's "switch everything" defense. Indiana 2013 is not like this team.

Rick Bozich had an article up yesterday about the Indiana Hoosier's Tom Crean looking at old Louisville Cardinals tapes, trying to get a handle on Denny Crum's old "switch everything" defensive approach back when his teams were at the height of their success.

The Cardinals got away with this for three big reasons:

  • They had athletes at every position;
  • They had big guards;
  • They were long and could defend.

Does this sound familiar to you, UK fans? It sure does to me. This is the exact definition of the 2012, and likely 2013 Kentucky Wildcats. John Calipari, however, does not employ a switching defense as his first option unless you're running up against a particularly dangerous player in screening situations. Coach Cal generally prefers to have players fight over screens, but if that is getting beat a lot, he will go to the switch, and every year for the past three, Kentucky has been long and athletic enough to do that.

Now consider Indiana. Indiana has some players returning who fit the Denny Crum ideal, but you have players like Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls who don't. Switch either of them off on a taller, more athletic big man, and you have a mismatch that can be exploited every time.

So even though I get that Crean is all about improving his teams defense, the "switch everything" doesn't look to me like an ideal candidate for that considering his personnel. Sure, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford fill the bill, but Cody Zeller and the aforementioned Hulls and Sheehey, not so much.

Another thing about this article, and one that really galled me, is Bozich's deliberate attempt to attack John Calipari with his too-clever-by-half co-opting of Coach Cal's now famous "non-tradtional" label:

It's also far from the complete list. Crean studies everybody. If there's a book on leadership, Crean has read it, from LaRussa to Belichick to Lombardi to captains of commerce or spiritual advisors. Crean is not afraid to be non-traditional that way.

... and ...

Two Hoosiers – seniors Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston – have already earned their undergraduate degrees. Five others – Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Cody Zeller – are on track to earn their degrees in 3 ½ years or less. Crean's players have earned perfect APR scores from the NCAA in back-to-back seasons. That's non-traditional, too.

Bah. Pure puffery, and not very well-disguised at that. This is Bozich trying to get under Kentucky fans' skin.

ESPN's Eamonn Brennan had this observation:

In the past five years, and maybe longer, the pick-and-roll has become a nigh-unstoppable force in the game of basketball at nearly all levels, from the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats to the NBA Champion Miami Heat, and everywhere in between. Why? Because it is intuitively simple and, when run properly, borderline unstoppable.

...

And Crum's switching defense may be the only way to stop it. Coaches have long since taken to switching "like" screens -- screens that feature two similar players, like two wings, that both defenders can guard with relatively equal success. But teams don't run many like ball screens. They force big men to come hedge on the perimeter, which forces help, which moves the defense the way the defense doesn't want to be moved.

The switch can be effective if the bigger player switching onto the smaller player can plausibly guard him, or vice versa. The problem is, this is rarely the case. Is Jordan Hulls going to plausibly guard Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress or Archie Goodwin? Is Cody Zeller going to guard Goodwin or Ryan Harrow? How does Hulls shoot over Noel, even on the wing? Not that UK and IU are scheduled to play, or anything, I'm just using the two as examples.

By my lights, Indiana does not have the personnel to run Crum's defense, pure and simple. Kentucky does, of course, but that's just not Calipari's first choice. He will go there if needed, but he usually prefers other screen defense methods first.

Anyway, Crean running Crum's defensive scheme is nice and retro and makes for a fun article, but seriously, it isn't likely to work in Indiana's case next year.

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