Defense wins championships

By Greg DeVries

Sports Writer

The word “defense” has become taboo around Waco because of the Bears’ football woes. But the football teams’s defense isn’t the only squad under the microscope. The No. 18 Baylor basketball team is undergoing some fundamental changes on the defensive side of the floor.

Last season, the Bears ran a zone defense. This means that each of the five players on the floor is responsible for an offensive player only if they are inside of a certain area of the floor. This season, men’s head coach Scott Drew will implement a man-to-man defense. In man-to-man, each player is responsible for defending a specific offensive player, no matter where this player goes on the floor.

A team that runs man-to-man defense nearly to perfection is the No. 1 Baylor women’s basketball team. The Lady Bears have not allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the floor since March 25, 2006. For a frame of reference, that’s before the song “Temperature” by Sean Paul reached the top spot on the Billboard Top 100. According to junior guard Odyssey Sims, defense starts with effort.

“You’ve got to keep the lead up,” Sims said. “It’s not so much as far as intensity but don’t stop playing on defense. Just because you’re up, don’t give up easy layups. Don’t take plays off. Keep playing no matter what the score is.”

A strong defense can take opposing teams out of their rhythm, according to Lady Bears head coach Kim Mulkey. This is what helped the Lady Bears win their exhibition game against Oklahoma City University 91-42.

“They had lost their focus,” Mulkey said. “They were looking at the scoreboard, looking at the game clock. They were not playing with a sense of intensity and urgency. They were playing the scoreboard and the clock. This is how you keep playing no matter what the score is.”

A big part of man-to-man defense is help defense. Help defense is when a player recognizes when another defender’s man has beaten him and is on his way to scoring. That player then leaves his man to go defend the player with the ball. A good defensive team recognizes when this happens and shifts accordingly.

Help defense is only one facet of man-to-man defense that the Bears will have to adjust to this season. When a team plays zone, a popular way to counter the defense is to overload one side of the court. This means that there are more offensive players on either the left or right side of the floor and the defense has extra defenders on the weak side. An effective way of scoring on a man-to-man defense is by using a pick-and-roll. The idea behind a pick-and-roll is to get the defenders to switch the players that they are guarding. This creates speed and size mismatches that the offense can exploit.

While there may not be a cure for an overload (besides changing the defense), there are measures that a defense can take to prevent or weaken the pick-and-roll. Guards can force defenders away from the offensive player setting the pick by forcing the offense to one side. This forces the player setting the pick to go out of position and it weakens the play that the offense is running.

Another way is for the post defender to step out when the pick is set. This forces the offensive ball-handler to take a roundabout path, and it gives the defense time to adjust to the play. If the offense runs the pick-and-roll successfully, then the ball-handler penetrates into the middle with his defender behind him. He now has the option to take a mid-range jump shot, or wait until another defender meets him. When another defender commits, it leaves an offensive player open.

If a defender plays good help defense, then the effectiveness of this penetration is minimized. Usually quick players with long arms play good help defense because they create smaller passing lanes and can block shots.

A big reason why the Lady Bears are successful defensively is because senior center Brittany Griner plays excellent help defense. Her tall frame and long arms allow her to quickly shift in front of opponents that are driving into the lane and either block or alter their shot.

In theory, the same should be true for the men’s team this season. With rim-protectors like freshman center Isaiah Austin, junior forward Cory Jefferson, and senior center J’mison Morgan guarding the basket, the help defense should be solid.

During the Baylor men’s scrimmage against Abilene Christian, the man-to-man defense looked shaky, but the Bears pulled off the victory 103-75. Last season, the Bears gave up an average of 65.3 points in their 38 games. When asked if he liked what he saw from the defense, Drew was blunt.

“Well, no,” Drew said. “There were some good teaching points, and we’ll use them and improve in some areas. Defensively, giving up 75 points is a lot to give up. We all know that.”

The men will start their season on Nov. 9 against Lehigh. The Lady Bears begin their title defense on the same day against Lamar.