OK, I have spent several hours watching tape of the TAMU Aggies team that Coach Gillispie ran last year trying to get a feel for what we can expect to see next year. Today we will look at the offense, which is a much longer post. Tomorrow we will have a look at the defense, which, despite its simplicity, deserves its own commentary.
Now, before I get too far along, a disclaimer -- I am a basketball fan, not a basketball coach. There are many with more experienced eyes than me for the intricacies of the game from a coaching perspective, and I am not setting myself up as an authority in this regard. So do not take what I write as gospel, these are the observations of a layman who has been watching college basketball for 35+ years -- in other words, a fan, just like you.
Also, this is all based on what he did last year. He may change it all up this year -- remember, he said his style would "depend on [his] players", so he may surprise us all.
Now that I'm all disclaimed to the gills, let's have a look. Gillispie's offense is a lot different from what Tubby Smith used to run. A lot. A lot simpler, and with less "moving parts". Gillispie likes to run a double-post motion offense that depends upon maintaining good spacing. Basically, two guys will run to the low blocks and the perimeter players will surround the perimeter, well spaced, in a 3-2 set.
Gillispie likes to start the offense early in the shot clock -- rarely would TAMU walk the ball up the court. After a made basket or rebound where they couldn't get out on the break, they would jog, not walk, into the front court and assume a 3-2 double low-post set The ball handler (usually Law) would immediately try to get the ball into the post, and the offense would begin.
Gillispie would run a number of plays out of this set, the most basic would be to hit the 4 or 5 man just outside the right or left block very early in the clock before the defense is well set. The 4 or 5 would drive the ball to the hoop for the shot or the foul, and if well defended, kick back to the wings for a ball-reversal 3 or reset.
Contrast this with last year's Kentucky team, who would rarely be in position to begin the offense with more than 25 seconds left on the shot clock, and would still be trying to assume offensive position while the point guard was pounding the ball. By the time UK was set up, Morris was usually well defended and unavailable for a clean entry, which resulted in a frustrated Morris and a stalled offense.
Gillispie loves to run a high-low out of this offense. Last year, he would have either the 5 or the four (but more often Jones, the 4) pop out to the left elbow in a 1-3-1 set. The point would try to get the ball into the high post for a dump-down to the low post or a dribble drive to the rim. This set was particularly effective against the 2-3 zone Texas prefers. Patterson and Stevenson would be naturals at this setup.
The one constant you will see in Gillispie's offensive sets is spacing, something Tubby's teams always seemed to struggle with. One of the reasons TAMU was so effective offensively is they always maintained good spacing, allowing the perimeter players the option of taking their man off the dribble. Because of his emphasis on spacing, you see far fewer ball screens than you would with Smith. I watched an entire quarter of one game without seeing a single ball screen set by TAMU, and I have yet to see the high pick and roll, something that Smith did quite a bit of.
Another play that Gillispie rarely tries is the high ball screen curl, where the shooter rubs his man off, curls around the screen and puts up a three. Most of Gillispie's 3-point offense comes from inside-out or quick ball reversal to the wing or to the top of the key. Usually, it would go from the right or left wing to the low post, and when the defense would react, Law would be wide open at the top of the key. Bang. Reminds me very much of the motion offense Pitino used to run when he was at UK.
Even against man-to-man, Gillispie screens comparatively little. He relies more on quick, penetrating dribble drives to force help, and good ball rotation or dumps to the low post off penetration. But there is nothing new or innovative about Gillispie's offense -- it is an offense that many teams run today, and depends more on good execution than innovation.
As far as pace is concerned, TAMU rarely went deep into the shot clock. Their shots usually came with between 5 and 10 seconds left on the clock, and they almost never found themselves dribbling around to get up a last-second heave like UK did so often last year.
Gillispie's offense is much simpler than Tubby's more byzantine flex offense, which required lots of screen-setting and ball reversal. The flex is tougher to defend when run correctly, but only one team in the last 5 years was able to run it with anything remotely resembling efficiency -- the Suffocats. Any team will quickly grasp Gillispie's offense -- is is the same set that most AAU coaches currently use (when they actually use an offense other than the run and gun).
In sum, I think Kentucky fans will appreciate the simplicity of Gillispie's offense. It offers advantages to teams with good athleticism that the flex is designed to mitigate. In other words, athleticism is less helpful with the flex than it is with the motion set Gillispie runs, which should allow our players more freedom and will require less concentration -- they will be able to just play rather than thinking about where they need to go next.