A quick google search of, “how to guard a three point shooting basketball team,” would be helpful for everyone from casual fans, to YMCA coaches, to apparently NCAA DI coaches. The search is telling. The second link brings researchers to a website document about 3-2 zone rotations. Additionally, a Google search of, “how to guard a small basketball team,” brings net surfers to the same link.
Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s how coaches should game plan an opponent who plays really small, like four guards and a forward small, and shoots the three ball really well, like 15/30 well.
Now, let us look at a case analysis. The Buffalo Bulls played 14 players in their first round victory against Arizona in the NCAA Tournament. Of those 14 players, five entered the game with about a minute to go, so they really had a rotation of nine players. Of those nine, five are guards and four are forwards. However, Bulls guards played 150 minutes and Bulls forwards played only 45 minutes. The extra five minutes were played by reserves. A team that gives guards 145 of 195 minutes will be predictable. They’re going to live and die by the three.
Now what do you do against a team that plays incredibly small and shoots the three a ton (of Buffalo’s 62 shots, 30 were triples)? Look above. You play a 3-2 zone. Or maybe a 1-3-1 zone. What you absolutely don’t do is line up with a center, a 7’1” forward (DEANDRE AYTON IS A CENTER SHUT UPPPP CASE CLOSED) and three guards and play a man defense. Sixty-four of Arizona’s 200 minutes were played by guys over 7 feet tall. Buffalo had no one in their rotation that is over 6’10. And even more, their 6’10” guy only played 13 minutes.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before, but Sean Miller got outcoached in the tournament. Let me be clear, this criticism has nothing to do about any report or allegation. This has everything to do with Miller being outcoached by Xavier in the sweet 16 last year and Buffalo in the first round 10 days ago.
Sure coach, you want to stick with the lineup that won both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament. But why would you stick with your trademark defense that was such a horrible weakness over the course of the season. Ok, the ‘Cats played a good pack-line man in the Pac-12 tournament. But they had really, really good matchups. USC plays 3 guards and 2 forwards 6’10” or taller. Chimezie Metu, at 6’11”, was the focal point of the Trojan offense. UCLA has two phenomenal big men in Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman (I apologize for anyone offended by me complimenting anything UCLA — just know that I threw up in my mouth a little writing it).
This loss had nothing to do about the skill level of any of Arizona’s players. That’d be like blaming the crew that died in the bottom of the Titanic for its sinking. It was the captain’s fault. So was this loss. The onus should be completely on Sean Miller. He sent his players out on a suicide mission.
This loss features Miller’s key flaw, and why he will never go to a Final Four unless he fixes it. He’s a fundamentalist. He lives and dies by his coaching philosophies, the pack-line man defense and the motion offense.
What makes DeAndre Ayton so good? The man is good at everything. He’s dominant in the post, can shoot the midrange, and even hit some threes. Miller? He teaches his teams to collectively do one thing on each side of the floor, rather than be versatile. Should Miller have taught his team to play a 3-2 zone against Buffalo? UA would’ve held Buffalo to under 50 points instead of giving up 90.
Miller’s coaching philosophy is precisely what limited Dusan Ristic’s career, as well. Ristic showed, as the season progressed, an ability to hit outside jump shots. Ristic’s biggest criticism throughout his first three seasons was that he had no hands. Well, when you only receive the ball on the low block, guards tend to drop back on you and make it harder and harder to catch the ball. How do you solve that? As Ristic showed, get out of the low block!
Miller’s fundamentalism is to blame for Arizona’s early exit in the tournament.