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Basketball Film Study: Baylor vs. South Carolina

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A breakdown of your favorite shootyhoops team in their first true road test of the season.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

As a handful of you are aware, the Baylor Men's basketball team is off to a 4-0 start and looking extremely underrated. The is no surprise however, since we lost three starters and our sixth man to graduation/NBA Draft and this team is not nearly as tall as Scott Drew's teams have been since he started getting his recruits into the program.

Last year, under my direction, we completely failed you in bringing quality basketball content week to week, but look for that to change this year (especially after football season is behind us). One of the more wanted pieces of content from last year were the film study posts and I look forward to focusing almost exclusively on them as the season progresses. Let's jump right in to it.

Same Team, New Look?

First of all, I love this. Baylor opens up against South Carolina and capitalizes on everything Coach Drew and his staff try to implement on offense on their very first possession. What is that you ask? Let's start with the fact that Scott Drew is essentially starting two point guards in Kenny Chery and Lester Medford which means that the motion in our offense this year will not just hinge on ball movement, but also in attacking open spaces with the dribble.

This sequence takes place after an offensive reset, something that having two point guards affords you to do without missing a beat. Notice that Medford's speed allows him to blow by his defender even with a rather weak screen attempt by Rico, who honestly just has to be in the vicinity to alter a defenders course with his stature alone. Lester then does his best Lebron James impression and draws not one, not two, not three, but four defenders by attacking the baseline. He immediately finds a wide open Royce O'Neale who swings a quick pass out to Kenny Chery. With that ball movement, the defense recovers nicely for its original mistake, the only problem is that they have recovered in a way that gives Baylor exactly what they want - mismatches. Chery kicks the ball back to O'Neale who notices the 6'9" Johnathan Motley being guarded by 6'5" Michael Carerra. Royce takes a couple of dribbles to develop a passing lane, fires a post entry pass and Motley finishes as he is supposed to do.

At first glance this seems like a simple thing, players just playing basketball and it turning out alright for the good guys, but just like we have learned that Baylor's infamous "touchdown play" (AKA "Hey Antwan/KD/Corey/Jay/etc. run far and we'll lob one to you") is more complicated than just playing catch, we need to understand that this spacing and movement is dictated by our coaches to put our players in situations and space that give them the opportunity to succeed. And they say Scott Drew can't coach ...

What is this Zone?

First, please note this diagram before taking a look at the GIF of the play. Also, please understand that these numbers are not indicative of the player's position, but just their zone on the court.

Baylor's base defense is a 2-3 zone. It also at times is a 1-3-1 and even morphs into other weird variations whether purposeful or accidental (mainly the latter). Here we are going to watch it fall apart because I actually think it's encouraging that we have so many new players in the rotation and are managing to still use the zone effectively for the most part. We still need work though, as the above play is completely avoidable. One thing to take a mental note of before I continue, Baylor's 2-3 zone asks more out of players in zone 3 and zone 5 than a typical 2-3 zone and for those of you who still wonder why Anthony Jones started so much in his tenure at Baylor it's because of how well he fit these two zone positions with his incredible length.

When boiled down, there are two ways to beat the zone - shoot over the top of it or penetrate the spaces with the dribble. In the play here, Baylor has already thwarted the Gamecocks attempts to break the zone for half of the shot clock. The breakdown however, is not because the players are in the wrong zone, or even because South Carolina has particularly great floor spacing, but because the new guy gets caught in the wrong part of his zone.

The breakdown occurs when Medford (2) unnecessarily comes to the free throw line to help Chery (1) with a job he has under control. Save for a random lapse or two against a really good Big 12 guard, you won't see this in February or March. The play further breaks down when Royce (5) pushes the driving guard to meet Rico Gathers (4) to stop the penetration. The problem? Gathers is caught worrying about the secondary threat on the baseline instead of the primary threat that attacked his zone. So just like Medford, Rico is caught in the wrong part of his zone. The good news here is that it is not a persistent flaw in Rico's zone defense, but likely a result of already having picked up an early foul and not wanting to force the issue. Or he just missed his assignment here - there is no way to tell 100% but as I said this isn't a repetitive issue for Gathers.

Motley and Deng will be DANGEROUS

I really wish Deng would have finished here, that would have been glorious. Alas, we are still allowed to be excited about what might be. With the athleticism and length of Deng and Motley, paired with the speed, handling and quickness of any combo of Medford, Chery, Al Freeman ... we might get into January and see some of the best ball movement ever under Scott Drew.

Just please finish, guys!

Can't shoot the 3?

If you are a team who struggles behind the three point line, this team is going to give you fits on defense. As you can see above, Baylor sits back in the zone and his content with keeping the action in front of them - even with the entry past to the high post in the middle, everything is in front and Baylor is forcing you to make a jump shot over them instead of easy stuff in the paint. Notice too how long the zone holds - this will be key in crunch time (this particular set came late in the game when the Gamecocks were looking to go on a run) as it completely deflates a team to give up points late in the shot. Baylor's quickness and length in the zone completely upended any chance South Carolina had on this possession. This sequence is caveated however, by saying this approach just will not work against teams with guys who can knock down shots along the perimeter. This will force Baylor to rely on its speed even more, and for Motley and crew to clean up dribble drives into the paint.

I would do more but I am already at 1200 words and there is a whole season ahead of us. Feel free to pose questions, concerns, etc. in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. Also please let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to understand better or have broken down for you. We want to bring you the best in Baylor basketball coverage! See - I do more than make hype videos.