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Defensive Keys For The Kentucky Wildcats Against Louisville

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Louisville is a fine team, but Kentucky's defense can be more than up to the task if they pay attention to a few key details.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

In this article, we’re going to take a look at Louisville’s offense and Kentucky’s defense, but not so much from a numbers standpoint — you had plenty of those in Hank’s post earlier — but more from a basketball execution standpoint. For the purposes of this illustration, we’ll be using a couple of screen captures from the UK game with the Kansas Jayhawks to help illustrate how Kentucky defends certain plays.

This is Kentucky’s base defense. Wayne Selden is going to basically make a one-on-one move to the basket. The Kansas 4-man, Perry Ellis, stays put right on the short baseline.

kentucky-kansas1

What’s going to happen here is that Ellis doesn’t move to the corner, which would’ve forced Lee to make a decision — go with him or defend the rim. Because he didn’t do that, here’s what the play wound up looking like on a diagram:

Kansas 1

Here is the result:

Kentucky-kansas 2

Marcus Lee swats the shot, starting a Kentucky fast break the other way.

What Louisville cannot do is run their offense the way Kansas did, and they won’t. Consider what would happen on the same play if Montrezl Harrell, a much better shooter this season, did what Ellis was supposed to do:

Louisville 1

Louisville 2

You can see that Harrell would move to the deep corner when the guard drives, putting pressure on Marcus Lee. He has to decide whether to try to block the shot, or cover his man. He can’t do both. If Lee moves to cover the pass, the guard tries to finish over Booker. If the offensive 3-man (probably Wayne Blackshear) doesn’t move like I’ve illustrated, the defensive 3 (probably Trey Lyles) could flex down and cover Harrell in the corner, freeing Lee to block the shot. If Blackshear moves far enough, though, the driving guard could pass back out to an open shooter, or hit Harrell in the corner who could then swing the ball back to an open Blackshear. We’d rather have Harrell shooting the corner 3 than giving up the layup or leaving Blackshear with a wide-open shot. He makes those.

If Lee positions himself well, he is long enough to interfere with both the shot and the pass. The key here is to make sure we make the right choices depending on the personnel in the game. This is a standard sort of play we might see in Louisville’s man-to-man offense, although they haven’t played that many teams man-to-man this season, because everybody zones Louisville for exactly the same reasons they zone Kentucky.

Kentucky must plan for getting beat off the dribble against Louisville, because we will. Kentucky’s guards are not quick enough to keep up with either Chris Jones or Terry Rozier off the bounce, so they have to do one of two things:

  • give them some room, force them to shoot the step-back three and hope for low percentages, or;

  • Force them to put it on the floor and drive into the Kentucky defense where UK’s length can affect the shot from almost any direction. For example, consider the same set where the guard gets beaten:

Louisville 3

What Kentucky will do in this case, because their size gives them flexibility, is to send the 3-man, who is likely to be a 6‘9" or 6‘10" player to run at Harrell, and the beaten 2-guard to run back at the open Blackshear (Louisville’s 3). That allows a strong challenge when Harrell moves the ball back to the perimeter to the open Blackshear, and Blackshear is a very poor shooter when his shot gets even modestly challenged.

What we see here is the effect of Kentucky’s size on other teams. This same set might not work quite as well with the smaller Tyler Ulis in there, but Ulis brings other useful things to the game that may well prevent a similar set from being successful, like better on-ball defense.

We don’t have time to look at the full arsenal of possible plays, but this basic drive penetration to layup and kick, a staple of the Dribble Drive Motion, is something Louisville does quite a bit of, although they usually run it out of a motion set with a back-screen or two to free the driver. Kentucky’s shot blockers must know where their help is coming from, because if they don’t, they’ll wind up leaving their man to help when no help is needed, or fail to make the smart rotation to cover the exposed shooters.

Another key to defeating Louisville is to defend them in transition. Kentucky has been a poor transition team at times, and they can’t afford to be bad against Louisville, because transition is the one area that the Cardinals enjoy a significant advantage. They get into it very quickly, and the point of Cardinal transition, in case you have forgotten, is to get shooters open on the wing. Consider this transition play from the Indiana-Louisville game:

Louisville-Indiana 1

Notice that two Indiana defenders are out of position. As a result, Blackshear gets an open 3-point look from the left wing. Blackshear is not a great 3-point shooter on the move, and he misses, but Kentucky cannot risk a good night from #25 because he can make them, and has a tendency to make them in bunches if he gets clean looks.

Three defensive keys to a Kentucky victory:

  • Keep the guards back. Kentucky is big enough to rebound with the Louisville front court without keeping the guards in the paint. The guards have to be back to cover transition, which is the biggest reason, other than their defense, that Louisville is undefeated.

  • Know where your help should be coming from. You can’t give Harrell or Blackshear unchallenged looks from either the deep corner or the wing, but you can give them shots you can recover to challenge. Harrell can make the three, but is less likely to make a challenged shot. Blackshear, for some reason, shoots poorly when challenged at all.

  • Stay home on Terry Rozier. Rozier is perhaps the only Louisville guard who shoots well on the move or off the bounce. Kentucky must force him to put it on the floor and make 2-point shots, because he’s good enough to make challenged threes whereas Blackshear shoots poorly when challenged at all, and Jones is shooting the ball really flat and badly this season. He may make them all tomorrow, but he’s a good bet to miss even a fairly open three.

We’ll take a look at the offense next.