For me, the first thing that I look at whenever I scout a match up for UC is what kind of pace they play at. Whether its fast, slow or located somewhere in the middle of the broad spectrum provided by the far too lengthy shot clock. The Blue Jays play at, more or less, the same pace as the Bearcats do (UC 65.7 possessions, Creighton 67). While the pace is the same, the effect is quite different.
We all know what the Bearcats do on offense. Stand around, maybe run a few dribble hand offs, wait for the shot clock to hit 10 seconds before initiating an iso that yields a contested 20 foot jumper. Rinse, wash, repeat. If UC wants to switch it up they will throw the ball into the post, where a half hearted hook shot will be sent back into the face of the big man.
Creighton on the other hand runs sets, but its not just that they run sets. Its that they run sets with a purpose. They work the ball around to get their guy, Doug McDermott, the ball in his favored spots. The argument could be made that Creighton operates the way they do because of McDermott's limitations. When your best player is not a guy who can create quality shots for himself off the dribble the team has to work much harder to get him the ball in the spots where he is the most effective. But thats beside the point, how the offense got pushed to this place is beside the point. That they are there is the point. Watching them is like hitting a time warp to the 90's before high level defending in college basketball was a thing.
The Jays have other good players, and they will be covered shortly, but McDermott is a guy who deserves attention. He is by far the most "used" player in the NCAA tournament. Only 12 other players* have higher usage rates this year. But they are all guards who are their teams primary ball handlers, who are then also the teams primary scorer. The effort that team puts into getting Doug E. Fresh (as I have long called him in my head for no particular reason) touches is somewhat extraordinary in this era of college basketball.
*Trevis Simpson of UNC Greensboro led the nation at 64.12 per cent of his teams possessions. On a separate note the Spartans were just 9-22
For the past few years there has been a growing amount of buzz about the way basketball gets played at Grinnell College in Iowa. Last year a player named Jack Taylor who scored 138 points in a game, shattering the existing record for scoring in an NCAA game. On the one hand its a feat of astounding proportions. The boxscore is other worldly. He took 107 shots, 71 of them three pointers. Taylor had just 10 free throw attempts and a .48/.38/.70 shooting split in 36 minutes of play. What has been lost is that Taylor's big day was just a logical extension of the Grinnell System. Before Taylor the last two holders of the Division III scoring record were Grinnell's very own Jeff Clement with 77 in 1998, and Griffin Lentsch with 89 in 2011.
The Grinnell System is odd for a lot of reasons, but two stick out to me. One is that to enable his players to go full go for as long as they can Grinnell coach Dave Arseneault has what amounts to three shifts of players who play the full court trapping style as hard as they can for as long as they can (usually 45 to 90 seconds) before being subbed out en mass. As a result each player averages between 18 and 20 minutes a game. Additionally each shift has a designated shooter. Which, while simple, is really revolutionary. Everything about the team is about getting the designated shooter as many shots as possible. That has long been an unspoken goal of Basketabll, but Grinnell aint doing no half steppin. Those are the mechanics, this is the strategy.
- The first possible shot is best possible shot, where three-point field goal attempts are preferred over shorter shots.
- Shoot as many three pointers as possible.
- In terms of defense, giving up an uncontested layup is better than a shot clock violation.
- Always double team the person with the ball.
- Every player but the shooter goes for the offensive rebound.
- Offensive rebounds should be sent back for another three-point attempt, not a shorter putback for two points.
The goal being similar to the goal of any up tempo offense in Football, to get more plays (shots) off than the opposition. For the last two years Arseneault seems to be setting aside one game a year to take a crack at that scoring record by abandoning the minutes limitation and having the best designated shooter play most of the game. Predictably records have fallen.
In general Creighton has very little in common with Grinnell college. They are in completely different states, are institutions of vastly different reach and influence. Of course McDermott played his high school basketball at Ames High School* which is a little over an hour away from Grinnell. But that is about as close of a connection that you will find. Still there is some similarity to the way both schools currently approach the game of basketball.
Doug E. Fresh is not officially the designated shooter for the Blue Jays, but he is the guy that every possession runs through. He is the first option on any play, and in almost any situation. Whats really remarkable about the Blue Jays is how well conceived their team is. It seems like the supporting cast are tailor made to make the shots that McDermott will create for them.
Gregory Echenique is a banger on the block at 6'9" 260. He occupies the paint and does his work on the block, but he has a decent mid range jumper and he has hit 42% per cent of two point jumpers this year, 57% on catch and shoot opportunities. It goes with out saying that said opportunities come when McDermott is working on the block.
The other three starters, who all average 27 or more minutes are floor spacers. Austin Chatman, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat all shoot 38 per cent or above from the three point line. Chatman and Gibbs do a little more work in the mid range than Manigat, who has attempted 121 threes out of 167 field goals. But they are there to space the floor. This is just an exceptionally well conceived offense that challenges defenses in unique ways, at least at the college level.