I don’t normally take the time to do something like this, but with the losses really piling up and fans starting to get vocal, I thought this might be a good time to really walk you through what I’m seeing. If you are a student of the game, you are well aware of the problems. If you’re not, then this might help you understand what is going on defensively.
I’m going to highlight each bucket by Syracuse in just the first half (for time’s sake), and explain to you whether Syracuse just simply scored on a solid defensive effort by the Pack, or if there was a defensive breakdown that led to the bucket. (Spoiler Alert: You’re not going to like the outcome.)
Follow along with me. Watch the video above. When Syracuse scores, pause it, come on down and read my thoughts. Here we go…
19:47 Jesse Edwards made Layup. Assisted by Buddy Boeheim.
This was Edwards being too physical for Gibson to gain position and a nice feed from Boeheim. Gibson had decent position seeing as Edwards wasn’t deep at all. The feed was just perfect. Gibson challenged, but Ewards finished. Not much you could have done here.
18:40 Cole Swider made Layup. Assisted by Jesse Edwards.
Lack of communication. This could have been avoided. There was no screen, so no real reason to switch. Morsell made the right play, Seabron switched. Morsell tried to get back to his man, but it was too late. Hellems was too tight on Jimmy Boeheim, and wasn’t able to get into help position in time. Multiple failures on this play.
18:05 Joseph Girard III made Three Point Jumper.
Smith was shading Girard to the right, attempting to keep him away from using the high screen. Girard had been struggling recently, so Smith was making the right move. Girard just took what was given and took a deep, contested 3. Not bad defense.
16:34 Jesse Edwards made Dunk. Assisted by Joseph Girard III.
Terquavion Smith didn’t get back in time. Forcing Gibson to stop Girard and leave his man. Morsell gets caught in no mans land trying to figure out if he should stay with his guy (shooter, Buddy Boeheim) or get in front of Edwards. Morsell tries to bait Girard into thinking he’s going to take Edwards, hoping to force the pass to Boeheim, who he is then trying to close out on. Girard doesn’t take the bait. Easy dunk.
15:48 Cole Swider made Layup. Assisted by Jesse Edwards.
State forced Boeheim into a poor look, and Gibson was boxing out. He had position but was late on going after the board. Edwards got the bounce and the rebound. Seabron wasn’t boxing out, as it looked like Gibson was in good position to get the miss. This left Swider open for the easy layup. Gibson needs to suck up this rebound, and Seabron should be boxing out in a perfect world. You could say that Syracuse just got a good bounce, but honestly, Gibson needs to grab that, and at worst Seabron needs to have made contact on the box with his man before going after the board.
15:08 Jesse Edwards made Layup. Assisted by Buddy Boeheim.
Boeheim goes off of high screen set by Edwards. Gibson should be cutting this off and giving Morsell time to recover while forcing Boeheim backward. He’s late, and then decides to commit to Boeheim. Both Morsell and Gibson are on Boeheim for some reason, leaving Edwards wide open on the roll. Hellems is there, but a second too late. Edwards get the bucket and the foul. This is on Gibson. Morsell and Hellems did a decent job here.
13:10 Jimmy Boeheim made layup.
This was Seabron simply getting out of his stance, going for a deflection. He reaches on the ball fake and is out of his defensive stance for a second. This allows Boeheim to beat him to the paint. Gibson figures Seabron will recover, so he doesn’t show himself enough to stop the drive. Seabron never recovers.
12:37 Buddy Boeheim made Jumper. Assisted by Joseph Girard III.
This is an easy jumper off an inbounds play First off, this is an illegal screen. But the refs miss it. Gibson needs to see this and hedge out and deny for a brief second while Smith recovers, but not enough where Edwards is able to slip to the block. Gibson stays home, Smith gets caught on the screen. Easy 2 for Syracuse.
10:35 Jimmy Boeheim made Layup. Assisted by Symir Torrence.
Dear lord. This one is just laziness. Here is another simple exchange, botched by NC State. Cam Hayes and Thomas Allen do not communicate, however, this isn’t a true screen, so Hayes shouldn’t be switching. They both end up on Swider, leaving Torrence wide open on the cut. Then Girard passes into the high post, and both Hayes and Allen turn their head, leaving Swider wide open to cut as well. 2 guys on the cut, wide open while Allen and Hayes are lost out top. Breon Pass is in good help position, but it’s too late and he’s too small. Torrence finds Boeheim for an easy 2.
7:23 Jimmy Boeheim made Layup. Assisted by Symir Torrence.
Freshman mistake by Smith. Boeheim is guarded by NC State’s best on-ball defender (Morsell), however Smith sinks down to help on the drive. Morsell wasn’t really out of position here, so Smith should stay home. Girard relocates and gets a wide-open 3. Meanwhile, Cam Hayes gets completely lost. He becomes a spectator. On the drive, he turns his head, loses his man and just starts walking into the middle of the lane. His guy gets great position for the rebound. For whatever reason, Thomas Allen does the exact same thing, losing his man. Both Hayes’ guy and Allen’s guy are sitting left unattended for the offensive board and putback. Geeze.
6:15 Buddy Boeheim made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by Joseph Girard III.
Cam Hayes, again, is not seeing man and ball. he is watching the ball handler and cheating into help position in the middle. Because of that, what he doesn’t see is his man setting a back screen on Morsell. There is no one to pick up Boeheim as he fades to the corner. Leaving him wide open. At the same time, all of this could have been avoided if Seabron was playing position defense on Girard. Instead, Seabron reaches, gets out of position, allows Girard to get in the lane, and all hell breaks loose.
5:49 Jimmy Boeheim made Layup. Assisted by Benny Williams
This was a fast break created by a Casey Morsell turnover. Defensively, there wasn’t much that NC State could do here. They were a man down, trying to get back.
2:13 Buddy Boeheim made Jumper.
Not much wrong here. Smith is mostly in position against Boeheim, but he just hits a contested fall-away jumper.
1:31 Cole Swider made Three Point Jumper
Another miscommunication. You have Swider (being guarded by Pass), coming on a wheel to receive the ball. He passes, Boeheim and Smith. Pass wants to switch off as soon as he can because he shouldn’t be guarding the 6’9 Swider. He figures Smith with simply exchange with him, but Smith is on Boeheim and doesn’t want to leave him. This leaves Sider open for 3. Pass tries to recover fast, but it is too late. He attempts to jump and contest the shot, but Swider pump fakes him, takes a single dribble and hits a 3.
0:58 Joseph Girard III made Three Point Jumper.
Once again, Boeheim drives on Morsell. He does have a half step on him, but Casey. Morsell is NC State’s best defender, and should be trusted to handle this drive. Instead, Cam Hayes sells out to help and go for the steal. Leaving Girard, who has been hot all game, wide open. He tries to recover, but instead of closing out with a hand up, he jumps for the contest. Girard pumps, one dribble, bang.
So there you have it. Of the 15 first-half FGs by Syracuse, I believe 11 of those were avoidable and were directly caused by either miscommunication, wrong reads, or plain laziness.
This is what I’ve been highlighting.
NC State doesn’t have a bad offense. In fact, they are 5th in the conference in PPG. It’s really their defense that is killing them and most of the time it’s not a lack of effort, it’s a lack of focus or discipline.
Obviously, it’s easy to sit here, rewatch the game and call out mistakes. But the truth is, if you want to be a great team, you need to cut down on these mistakes, and to do that you need to understand that these seemingly small, split-second decisions are costing you ball games.
Keatts isn’t going to scrap his defensive philosophy. That seems to be clear. He wants his guys switching, going for deflections and picking up full court. That’s fine, but if you’re going to do that, you can’t have your guys constantly miscommunicating on exchanges, switches and help side.
These guys need to be well aware of the scouts. Who they can help off of and who they can’t. They need to always see man and ball using peripheral vision, instead of turning their heads and watching the play. They need to ALWAYS be talking and communicating about switches on screens or exchanges.
This is a tough ask, especially for a young team, and without Bates in the middle to clean up these mistakes, they are on full display.
The good news is, as this team gets more mature, these mistakes will hopefully start going away. However, in today’s college basketball, you are constantly bringing in new guys and losing guys to transfer or pro contracts. So, is this style of defense really sustainable? Who knows, but Keatts looks like he’s all-in to find out.
I don’t disagree with the theory or the strategy. Heck, if you can play this type of defense well, without mistakes. You’ll be one of the toughest teams in the nation to go up against. But to get to that point, you need buy-in, communication, and a team that OBSESSESSES OVER THE SMALL THINGS.
Because it’s those small things that are the difference between NC State being where they are, and them being in the mix to be an at-large team this season.