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Film Room: Alabama

Alabama v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Welcome to The Film Room.

In this series we’re going to cut up recent game film to take a look at what the Tigers were doing, and at times, what they weren’t. Film study is in important aspect of basketball. It’s not a matter of simply looking at film and seeing what sets produced baskets (or stops on defense), but rather, what the offense produced in terms of quality of opportunity and what the defense prevented. While most of the commentary will focus on the offensive end, the defensive end is just as important and will get some attention as well.

At the outset, I see film and statistical analysis as effectively a four step process. First, you want to look at what actions/plays a team runs. Styles and systems vary wildly in the college game. How are teams trying to generate looks? Who are the looks generated for? Second, you want to look at the efficiency of those actions/plays that are run, determining how many points per possession are gained (or prevented.) Third, you look at whether the scheme, or game plan, is optimizing the actions/plays that are most efficient in a matchup. Is the offense creating looks for the right guys, shooting the right shots in the right quantity? Finally, it’s a matter of execution. Getting the shots you want on offense still requires those looks to be converted. Nothing can paper over bad offense better than elite shot-making, after all.

This series will primarily look at the first and third points. What plays are Mizzou running? What is the opponent doing on the defensive end to counter those actions? What about when Mizzou is on defense? I would suggest that while viewing offensive sets, look at what the defense is doing, no matter who has the ball. Are the defenders being forced to make decisions in leaving shooters open? Are cuts, screens, etc. causing defenders to be out of position? Are ball screens covered effectively? Those are generally hallmarks of effective offense.

Pull up a seat and let’s get started.

In the first series of videos, we’ll look at what proved to be an inexplicable decision on behalf of Alabama to start the game in a zone defense.

In this first set, Mizzou doesn’t do anything dynamic. Rather, Brazile receives the ball as a trailer, passes back to Coleman and he drills a catch and shoot three pointer. Notice that with an extra pass, Pickett is all alone. While you’ll certainly take a solid shooter stepping into a good look, Alabama wasn’t prepared to cover a pass away, either.

In this clip, Alabama is once again showing a zone, though their assignments are all mixed up with players scrambling. Mizzou starts with 5-out before Brown begins working the high post. After some tremendous ball movement on the loaded side of the floor, Brown connects on a relatively easy look. You’ll also notice, at the time of the shot a kick out to Coleman at the top of the key would yield an open jump shot, or a 2 on 1 advantage with Gordon on the opposite wing.

Moving on to some special teams work.

Here we have an out of bounds play under the basket. With Coleman triggering the play, and Brazile and Kobe setting a wedge screen at the elbow, Pickett first clears to get the defense in motion. Gordon circles around off the same screen receiving the pass and a clear lane to the basket. While the shot-fake allowed the defense time to recover somewhat, the defender on the inbounds pass was late to react and led to a look at the rim and a trip to the line. Also notice the attention Brown received. Neither defender was willing to help and stop the ball.

Before we get into the meat of the Mizzou attack, let’s also take a moment to see some instances where Mizzou’s defense led to great looks at the other end.

This sequence was one of the more important stretches in the game, in my opinion. Brazile was initially beat off the bounce on the defensive end. Not giving up on the play, he was able to make a tremendous block from the trailer position. Pickett collects the ball and immediately pushes it up the floor, finding Coleman who was running the right wing. Seeing the Alabama had not gotten back, Coleman skips the ball across to Gordon who finds himself wide open for a catch and shoot opportunity. The deficit moved from 8 to 3 in a hurry.

Here, Alabama attempted to get a quick look in transition. While it was a quality opportunity, the shot didn’t fall. The Tide had four men on the offensive glass. Despite Mizzou having five men below the peak of the restricted circle (FIVE!), they secured the rebound and were able to beat the defense down the court for an easy bucket in transition.

The next clip is a “Gut” action.

Here Coleman shoots the “gut” of the court from the baseline, receiving a loose screen from Brown. Brown then proceeds to rescreen the ball and both defenders jump to trap the action. No one rotates to cover Brown on the slip of the ball screen. Coleman finds him rolling and the defense doesn’t recover until he’s within the restricted arc. You may have noticed, that wasn’t soon enough to stop Brown on that day.

Let’s take a look at an aspect of Mizzou’s game that hasn’t always been working. Outside shooting! Mizzou was running much of the same offense they had all season. They continued to find open looks and on this occasion, convert them.

After the initial inbounds action didn’t provide the opportunity they were looking for, Mizzou pulled the ball out and set up their base look. Wilmore sets a ball screen for Pickett and subsequently clears the gap on the roll. Pickett follows to the free throw line. When the defense recovers to stop the ball, Brown’s man had helped off enough to allow space for the kick-out for the open catch and shoot. Kobe wasn’t missing much.

In this segment, watch both Coleman and Brown. After an initial pick and roll that produced little, the ball ends up in Kobe’s hands in the near-side corner. Coleman has rotated to the far-side wing. On this occasion, Kobe’s dribble drive attracted all five defenders into the paint, or nearby. Much like Kentucky had done. Yet Kobe is able to execute an excellent pass and finds Coleman on the weakside for a clean catch and shoot. Brown wasn’t just a scoring threat Saturday. He was getting his teammates great looks.

This set begins with a DeGray pin down screen for Coleman, and a rescreen on the ball. After Alabama jumps the ball screen, Coleman reverses to Kobe. Kobe sets a “ghost screen” for Kaleb, meaning simply that instead of setting the screen, he commences with the “roll.” Kaleb finds him when the double team comes. Drawing three defenders to his spot on the block, he kicks it out to DeGray who has all day to connect on a prime look from the top of the key. I love this clip. The primary action is stifled. The secondary action draws the same double team and Mizzou counters with quick decision making and great passing. Excellent.

You want off the ball action? Keep your eyes on Coleman. Another “gut” action gets the ball in his hands to start the set. A dribble hand-off to Pickett starts the fun. Kobe immediately screens Coleman’s man in the farside corner. DeGray completes the delayed stagger when Coleman’s man is already out of position. Kaleb hits Coleman with an accurate pass to complete the play. Really fun stuff to watch in slow motion.

Here, the fun stuff starts at the 0:14 mark of the video. Kobe sets a ball screen for Coleman. If you’ve been following, you’ll know that it’s going to be a ghost/slip instead of seeking to actually set the screen. Sure enough, Kobe rolls after the Tide switch the screen, giving Kobe a mismatch on a guard. The pass takes a while to get there, but Alabama isn’t doing a lot in the mean time. When Kobe’s initial defender helps down to double him on the block, Coleman fades to the top of the key, and zip...another perfect pass for a spot up three pointer. Amazing how the offense looks when the shots are falling, huh?

While the outside shooting was no doubt a welcome sight, Mizzou’s ability to get what they wanted, when they wanted it, inside the arc was the difference maker. Let’s take a look at a series of cuts that dissected the Tide’s defense and turned...the the Tigers’ favor.

Mizzou starts this set out with a familiar “gut” action, followed by a DeGray rescreen for Gordon. Seeing nothing, the ball is reversed into a Brazile ball screen for Coleman. After the action is stymied, Gordon ultimately attacks of the bounce. When the Tide’s defense stops the ball, Brazile, who had rolled to the nearside “dunker’s spot,” simply cuts towards the basket after his man lifts, and finds a rim look after Gordon makes the nice dump off.

This is the same play as shown above that set staggers following a dribble hand-off for Coleman. This time Gordon received the staggers. Gordon didn’t find the open shot. As a secondary action, Kobe sets a loose ball screen and pops to the wing. When he drives at the 0:19 mark, Brazile’s defender is under the rim. Brazile’s defender steps up to stop the dribble penetration and Kobe finds Brazile cutting baseline for an easy bucket at the rim. You’re seeing how valuable Brown was even when he wasn’t scoring.

We’ve buried the lede. The play everyone wants to see. Here, the “gut” frees Gordon to receive the pass via a pin down screen, and the rescreen on the ball by Brazile. Brazile’s defender jumps to stop the ball, no switch occurs and the help side defense is late. Brazile rolls to the rim, Gordon throws it to the general vicinity...fireworks.

Here a simply baseline inbounds play gets the ball to Pickett in a post up opportunity. Kaleb’s man is lingering help side in the restricted arc. When Pickett drives the center of the paint, Kaleb’s man steps up, loses sight of his man and Pickett finds the baseline cutter for another easy bucket.

There were many such sets to dissect, but this gives the basic overview for what Mizzou was doing offensively and what Alabama was (or wasn’t) doing to stop it. Savvy cutting, timely shot-making of prime looks and Kobe Brown doing much more than even his 30 points indicate. A recipe for success!