February 03, 2014
John Calipari must have listened to you all. The die-hard man-to-man coach employed some zone defense against Missouri.
But how did it do? Well, I went back through the film and charted them.
In 10 possessions using zone defense, Kentucky allowed seven points. That's a great bottom-line number.
It's also way too small of a sample to draw definitive conclusions, but digging deeper, the returns are promising. In those 10 possessions, Missouri attempted four 3-pointers, three mid-range jumpers, one lob dunk and turned the ball over twice. The zone "stymied" the Tigers in the first half, Frank Haith said.
One out of 10 trips down the floor ended with a shot at the rim? That's a really positive result, especially given how much UK has struggled with keeping good guards in front of them.
"This is a long team, a big team," Calipari said. "It’s a good zone team if they’ll scramble. But you’ve also got to rebound."
That was one of the problems: Kentucky allowed one offensive rebound off seven misses, and Missouri came very, very close to hauling down an offensive board on three others. This is the play in which UK gave up that offensive rebound, and beyond that, you can see breakdowns: Aaron Harrison rotated too far into the center of the floor, allowing a shooter to get behind him and forcing Julius Randle up. Alex Poythress had his man boxed out but ultimately lost position.
That out-of-position defense is something that would clearly be an issue if Calipari used more zone going forward. Check out this sequence, where Harrison overplays the screen, forcing Poythress to step up and give up a wide-open outside look:
At other times, though, the zone stopped Missouri penetration into the lane and Kentucky scrambled well enough to cover up mistakes. And you have to figure that if Calipari made a more serious time commitment to teaching zone, this team would learn how to play it more effectively. There will still be natural shortcomings -- this team isn't exactly great at communication and moving around off the ball -- but it could also greatly help cover up other shortcomings that aren't going away -- namely, good guards tearing UK's defense apart.
Quite simply, Kentucky's man-to-man defense is clearly not title-worthy right now, and I'm skeptical whether it can develop to that level by March. I'm also not sure UK could get there with zone defense -- there's so little time -- but I do think it's worth serious consideration to at least have it as a legitimate option, not one that's just a desperation ploy.
To do that, Calipari will have to put aside his career-long defensive philosophy and make a concerted effort to implement more zone defense. Will he do it? I'm not sure. He's really prideful about this subject, no matter how often he talks about it. But maybe Missouri was the start of him recognizing that it's an idea worth exploring.