On Friday night, following Tennessee’s upset win over Ohio State in an NCAA round of 16 match-up, I asked, “Why did [Ohio State coach Thad Matta] persist in playing a 1-3-1 zone that gave Tennessee shots from five feet and in all night, and that made it difficult for Ohio State to rebound when Tennessee missed?” A reader notes that yesterday, when West Virginia stunned Kentucky in the round of 8, its coach, Bob Huggins, used a 1-3-1 zone.
My problem with Matta was not that he used the 1-3-1 (though I’m not a big fan of it) but that he persisted with that defense as Tennessee shredded it constantly. The numbers don’t lie. Tennessee basically doubled Ohio State’s output on both points in the paint and offensive rebounds.
Kentucky, by contrast, did not shred West Virginia’s zone. Instead, it first tried to shoot over the zone and, when those shots wouldn’t fall, had John Wall drive into the teeth of the zone hoping to score or create. Kentucky did not use Tennessee’s approach of getting the ball to the baseline (the initial soft spot of the 1-3-1) and then quickly moving the ball as the defense adjusts. Consequently, Kentucky did not get the kind of shots Tennessee did.
West Virginia still paid a price for its zone. Kentucky collected 22 offensive rebounds, compared to 9 for West Virginia which, like all Huggins teams, normally excels on the boards. That’s four more rebounds than Tennessee collected against Ohio State. But the price wasn’t steep enough to indicate that Huggins, whose team was in control throughout the second half, should change his defense.
That was primarily because Kentucky’ just couldn’t shoot the ball. The Cats went 4-32 from the three point line, mostly on decent looks and shots that didn’t even come close, and 16-29 from the foul line. It’s tough to beat a good team with that kind of shooting regardless of the defense being used.
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