I have long believed that you do not learn much about your team until they function in a game setting. In the confines of drills and intra squad play, you are not exposed or challenged. Your sets appear to work, your players learn what you teach them, but there is no substitute for a game setting that hurls at them unpredictibility.
Tonight, amid much ballyhoo, and a star-studded gallery, my JV team took on Mr. Charm’s freshmen. The final score was 71-59 JV, but how the game played out is of the most signifigance.
The freshmen team took it to us for the first 4 minutes building a 15-6 lead. Most of our trouble came from a complete inability to contain point guard, RJ Bradley. His quickness got the ball up floor before we could set a defense and created easy looks. I made a substitution in our “stretch” (transition man defense) that helped us contain him. With that move the freshmen were limited to five points over the remaining four minutes of the first quarter. As we got stops, we gained some poise offensively and cut the deficit to 20-18 at the quarter.
In the second period, I tried to play 1-3-1, but we seldom got in the defense to any effect. Our shape was bad, and we allowed too many quick, direct passes. The purpose of the 1-3-1 is slow a team down and force them to lob passes over the defense, preferrably near midcourt. Our lack of shape was fatal. The ball was swung top to top quickly and our wing players couldn’t get wide enough in time to prevent the ball from getting swung to the wing. We also had difficulty playing behind the middle guy so we had no presence in the middle of the floor to anchor the defense upon. Also of signifigance was that in playing 1-3-1 so poorly we allowed the freshmen to steal minutes with weaker players without getting hurt.
In the third period, both teams played zone. My group played 2-1-2 to moderate effectiveness, but we were terrible attacking their zone. We repeatedly passed the ball into traffic and turned it over. We did not swing the ball side to side freely to manipulate the zone and break it down. We did manage to get the lead at 50-48 in the closing seconds of the quarter, but senselessly gambled allowing the freshmen to drive down the middle for a game-tying lay up at the horn. This is a typical time and score situation. We have played poorly, but gotten the lead. Time is running down in the quarter, and our best play would have been to remain solid defensively, hold our shape and rebound the final shot. By gambling we opened the floor in the closing seconds and gave up a potentially disheartening basket.
In the fourth quarter, we responded well. Defensively we picked it up in the 2-1-2, got several steals and some easy baskets. “Breaking” the tie game and quickly going up 3 possessions put pressure on the freshmen that the game was getting away from them. They only scored two points in the first four minutes of the final quarter. From that point, a tactical time and score game followed whereby we attempted to spread the floor, move the ball and force the freshman to chase the ball and lose shape. Due to our collective inexperience and lack of awareness we took a number of poor shots in the final four minutes that complicated the stretch run.
At this point in our team development, we are just playing. To get to what we can be as a team, we need to learn to dictate the game on both ends. That is a process that involves adapting to the situation at hand. Recognizing what is hurting us defensively and adjusting to it (taking away RJ). Changing tactics as the game progresses and recognize the value of doing so in the concept of dictating play (we did not play 1-3-1 tactically correct). Finally, time and score. Shots and plays that are fine when you are down, or even in a game become bad shots and bad plays when you are up. I am happy that we learned the lessons of today, and not a week from Monday. This lessons of tonight will sharpen our focus in practice next week and drive us toward meaningful improvements.