Monday, November 28, 2011

UNLV vs. UNC - My MVP’s Played Not a Single Minute

By Jason Taylor

Yes… With a reported 40-50 NBA scouts in attendance, Chase Stanback chose a terrific night to drop 28 points and seize 10 rebounds, and Mike Moser chose a great night to grab an astounding 18 rebounds amongst the “ Red Woods” of UNC and to begin showing his 3 point scoring ability. 

It was an all-around team effort.  Marshall, Bellfield, Lopez, Massamba, Hawkins, Thomas… they ALL played really, really well.

In my book, however the biggest stars of the night didn’t play a single minute.  The credit for this win belongs the Rebel Coaching Staff.

In my September piece for RebelReign, “And Then, There Was Rice”, I addressed the idea of what Coach Rice’s “Runnin’” might mean for the Rebels.

Of the compiled list exemplifying what might be meant by “Runnin’”, the following have pretty much rung true as staples to Rice’s offense:
  • Quickly identify defensive seams, and attack at first light.
  • Guards run the wings looking for quick outlet passes, even on in-bound plays.
  • Players have more authority to make decisions based on flow.
  • The “Bigs” run the lanes looking for dishes and clean-up work.
  • “Offensive Sets” rely on quick lateral movement.
  • Guards/Forwards often penetrate and create the “draw and dish”, or finish.
  • “Face-up”, or “catch and shoot” jumpers become increasingly important.
  • Deep and frequent use of the bench.
Former Reblel’s coach, Lon Kruger, has gained success over the years through consistency.  His teams apply high defensive pressure and a very consistent offensive effort that takes few chances.  Kruger’s games are largely won due to favorable turnover rates.

Coach Rice has dialed up a formula for maximum speed, which has indeed increased the number of turnovers, but in exchange for higher overall scores.  It includes a bit more risk, but in racing terms, it seeks to finish 1st, vs. finish “high”. 

The style Rice has employed, however, has also been very consistent.  The pace has been frenetic, multiple ball handlers have pushed into the frontcourt, and shooters have been in position, ready and waiting for the drive-and-kick or swing passes.  He’ll send the ball over the top on fast breaks at first chance, and the substitutions have been predictable, bringing in fresh legs to meet the demands of massive oxygen uptake.

This week, however, highlighted a pit crew highly capable of fine-tuning, and even altering its attack, and this is what has caused me to give my “MVP” to the coaches.

The game against Cal Poly was the first example.  Playing time was re-arranged, and some of it was done in real time.  Cal Poly was ridiculously physical.  The Rebels then leaned on the leadership of Brice Massamba, who thrives in a physical scenario, and left Lopez sitting out most of the game, with an added benefit of protecting his recovering ankle. 

The Rebels, as usual this season, pushed the pace against Cal Poly where they could, and were quick to send passes deep before zone defense could set up. 

They weren’t as athletic as the Rebels, as most teams are not, and we exploited this fact, like every team so far, with success.

Then comes UNC.  My recruiting analysis in September identified the fact that the Tar Heels have 9 Top 100 recruits, the worst of which was 32nd in the nation.   Their average Top Recruit was the 14th best in the United States.  They are crazy good, and crazy deep!

So, now what do you do.  This may be the one team we’ll face that has a clear-cut “athletic” advantage.  They are taller and faster on the average.   That’s one problem.

Then, as the game developed, there was no doubt that the refs were equipped with some of the quickest whistles in the west.  This altered the variables for both coaches.  Anthony Marshall, who dictated the Rebel’s strategy early in the game, ended up with 3 fouls by half time, as did Massamba.

How did we adapt?

Think about the 2nd half.  How many times did UNC press ahead for the fast break?  A lot, which yielded a turnover or two, and several trips to the line where they shot poorly, thank goodness. 

In the 52 points that were scored in the 2nd half by the Rebels, how many times did UNLV press ahead in the same fashion, trying to beat UNC’s defense back?  NONE.  There were some long passes, and a few quick drives, but not one time did UNLV “go long” over the top looking for the quick bucket as it has done all season. 

This was calculated, and intentional.  The odds of accomplishing this feat against UNC were too low.

In previous games, the rebounder has often dribbled up after rebounds, intensely pushing tempo. 

But now, the combined point guard presence of Marshall and Bellfield on the floor was critical to success, so how do you keep Marshall on the floor with 3 fouls? 

Marshall is prone to “charging”, and Bellfield is an excellent pace setter, so in the second half, the backcourt rules changed completely.  The rebounder, instead of turning up-court, began looking for Bellfield in the backcourt, even if the rebounder was Marshall, and Bellfield MODIFIED THE PACE.

We were still in the frame of mind that we needed to use drives and create quick lateral movement in order to utilize the first open scorer, but Bellfield allowed everyone to “take their places” before employing offensive pressure.

Then, on UNC’s fast breaks, it was Thomas, Hawkins, or Lopez that were taking the chances and potentially drawing the fouls.  Marshall would normally find himself in that mix, but he was basically absent to the scenario in the 2nd half.

As time wound down, UNC began to press.  In astonishingly sound fashion, the Rebels turned the press to their advantage.  Yes, UNC’s press did create a turnover at the end from a Moser in-bound pass, but overall, this team was supremely prepared to draw the double-team and pass long to midcourt.  This created a couple of “freebies” for the Rebels, including a wide-open Stanback dunk to spread the lead. 

The Maestros of the coaching staff were conducting their finest, albeit this is only Rice’s 7th official game as a head coach.

As a Rebel racked up a foul, they’d sub out and another would sub back in.  The quick whistles finally landed Massamba and Moser on the bench with 5 fouls each, but not until the last seconds.  UNC would not benefit from their absence. 

I don’t think for a second that any of this occurred haphazardly.  It’s not that our players were not in supreme form – they were.  But in my mind, the coaches orchestrated this win.

MVP’s – Coaches Rice, Hutson, Augmon, and Schroyer.

Great Job!

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