Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 7: All of Our Friends

When I started this series back in early May, I figured I may have to adjust the schedule at some point. Life happens. However, I figured it would be date-related, not content-related. The seven pillars of making your offense better seemed fairly obvious to me at the time, and I was greatly looking forward to figuring out how everything would fit together. Over the course of the last three months, I realized that the seventh and final installment of this series could afford to aim a little grander than expected.

Originally, this post was exclusively going to be about…well, posts. Post-ups, post player presences, how to work an offense through the post and still be lethal from the perimeter, etc. The post-up is far from dead in college basketball, and it feels like we may even be having a micro-renaissance of a sort. I’m mildly biased by the fact that the University I attended featured a first-round draft pick in the post, but several coaches seemed to agree.

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scope of it would be a little small. Every team could afford to have a post presence, obviously, but not every team currently has one that they’re comfortable running an offense through. Some teams eschew post players entirely, preferring a five-out lineup that spaces the floor with guards running through the paint. Some teams, like my beloved Tennessee, ran out two posts for nearly every possession this past season. The story, as it’s been all along, is that one size does not fit all.

The more important point is that, to this point, I’ve featured 18 programs and their excellent offenses. All of them are different, and all of them achieved their impressive levels of efficiency through their own unique means. Adding three more through a post series would’ve brought it to 21, a pretty good number. The more I thought about what to do for the final installment, though, I began to think of all the great offenses I’d left out. There’s more than 21 great college basketball offenses out there, and while I can’t realistically cover them all, I could cover more than planned. So, as any coach who’s participated in this series could tell you, I started sending emails, one after another.

What I got back was something far greater and expansive than anticipated. What was supposed to be an 8-10 team post turned into 12, then 15, and now, finally, 18. This one post alone will double the amount of teams covered in this series. All of these offenses are worth covering, but they didn’t really fit into any of the first six categories. (In the end, after contemplating putting these teams in a few different categories, I threw up my hands and decided to put them in alphabetical order. Whatever’s most fair.) If they did, they just missed the cut of the relevant original piece. Considering that just two of these 18 teams are in Division I, the likelihood of them getting serious coverage by a stats + video site like this isn’t very high. I want to give them the coverage they deserve. Here’s hoping I got it right.

Every team got their own page, and this is a massive, near-18,000 word piece. If you’re only here to see one or two of these teams, use the table of contents below to click ahead to your team of choice.

Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 5: Cuts

Cuts, by and large, are the easiest way to score points in basketball. By their Synergy terms, they’re downhill actions that can come in a variety of ways: backdoor, off screens, curls, flares, basket cuts, flashes, etc. To borrow a phrase from several different coaches, there’s a million different ways to run a cut. However, there’s also a few select ways that should work best for you and your team.

This past season, the Cuts play type on Synergy was the most efficient play type on average. It’s been the most efficient play type since Synergy has existed. And yet: it’s the fourth-most used play type in college basketball. Why don’t more teams run cuts? Is this simply Synergy designating a “cut” as a different action at times? Are teams not as influenced by the Golden State Warriors (by far the highest user of cuts in the NBA) as we thought? If Cuts only represent around 8.4% of college basketball possessions, are they really that important?

There’s no one answer, obviously, but we can attempt to provide a few different ideas. First off, it’s impossible and silly to run the same play type for a full game. You’ve got to be diverse, to be creative, and to be unpredictable. The best offenses in college basketball have to have at least two of these three items: 1. Great shooters; 2. A great, unique system; 3. A coach unafraid of switching from a game plan. (Most commonly, they have all three.) The highest-usage cut rate over the 14 seasons in the Synergy database is Grove City’s 20.8% use in 2017-18. 20% seems to be a realistic limit; even Golden State only uses them 11% of the time. (In the Notes section of this piece on the last page, you’ll see some brief work on Grove City’s cuts.)

So: why are Cuts so important if most teams won’t run them more than 8-9% of the time? Because plays ending in cuts aren’t the only ones that count. The vast majority of basketball offenses use off-ball cuts, screens, motions, and more just to set up a potential shot. If a player gets a pass off of a cut and doesn’t shoot it, that won’t go down in the database. Chances are that these teams are using cuts by the technical term more often than the average 8.4%; it’s my duty to show you which ones are the best ones, theoretically.

In this series, you’ll see three teams that run a variety of unique looks offensively, all of which heavily involve cuts. Bellarmine went from going 18 seasons without a Division II NCAA Tournament bid to winning 275 games this decade on the back of Scott Davenport’s backdoor-heavy offense. On the other hand, Notre Dame’s women’s program has made 26 straight NCAA Tournaments and seven of the last nine Final Fours on the back of a routinely great offense. In between, Aaron Johnston’s hard work for South Dakota State’s women’s program has taken them from a Division II power to their first-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance in Division I this past season.

All three programs are impressive in their own way, with each finding a unique, creative way to win games on the back of their cuts. In terms of great college offenses to mine ideas from, this might be one of the better collections you’ll find.

To skip ahead to the section of your choice, please click one of the following below: