Mar 25, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self smiles during the second half of the finals of the midwest region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Edward Jones Dome. Kansas won 80-67. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
In both the second round win over Purdue and the Elite 8 win over North Carolina, Kansas has gone to a triangle and two defense later in the game, and both times it has worked swimmingly. North Carolina made just one field goal in the final 5:46, and just three in the final 12:41. But will it work Saturday, if needed?
The triangle and two's main function is to typically shut down a perimeter player by forcing him to beat the man guarding him as well as an established zone inside the paint. Harrison Barnes mentioned after the Elite 8 game that no matter what he did it always seemed like there was another Jayhawk waiting for him.
But does Ohio State have the type of personnel that could take advantage of a KU triangle and two?
First off, the triangle and two is probably most vulnerable to dribble penetration. Aaron Craft is probably a bit overrated offensively, but can get to the rim well and has the quickness to get into the lane with regularity. Secondly, it is vulnerable to big men who can pass well, since they are "covered" only by a zone. Fortunately, Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas have assist rates of 8.5% and 5.9% respectively. The zone half of the triangle and two would have some added benefit with Sullinger and Thomas as well, as each is a very scary offensive player and playing a triangle and two allows Withey to stay inside to protect the rim rather than being chained to any one guy.
One interesting way to attack the triangle and two that I haven't noticed anyone try (though to be fair I haven't gone back to watch either the Purdue or UNC game possession by possession because my heart can't take it), is to move the two players being guarded man to man down to the blocks. In this case it would likely be Aaron Craft and William Buford. While neither is a post player obviously, this would either force either some uncomfortable switching or it would force four defenders (the two interior zoners + the man to manners) to guard just two players. I am guessing KU would be adept enough to switch and have Releford (or whomever is guarding one of Buford/Craft) to run out and switch on the perimeter, but even the smartest of defenders couldn't do this instantly, and it would open up Buckeyes for jumpers. Fortunately for Kansas, Craft and Thomas are the only two who would really hurt us in that case.
Another idea is more of a set play, and is a bit tough to describe (but even tougher to draw when I tried to diagram it) so bear with me: the basic idea is to have Craft give up the ball to someone being zoned, and then the other person being zoned screens Craft's man. Craft runs to the same corner as the wing with the ball, which would force one of the bigs to at least half way step out towards him and hopefully the zoner at the top of the key to shade that way as well, then the zoner on the other side of the court is screened, and the big man there can flash to the basket. It is a little tough to wrap your head around, I agree, but in theory it would work for a couple easy baskets.
An argument against playing the triangle and two altogether has been the play of William Buford. Buford had a horrible game in the first meeting against Kansas, and for the year has just a 47.7% eFG and his 16.4% TO rate is third worst on the team. He's also settling a lot this year, with almost half of his shots coming as two point jumpers. Shooting just 35% on these shots, he's really been a worse version of Harrison Barnes this year.
In the end, I think the best idea against Ohio State is to play man to man, but a sagging man to man to give Sullinger and Thomas the attention they deserve. Sullinger has a 27% usage rate and has maintained a 55% eFG this year, and he also draws more than 6 fouls per 40 minutes. He will be the best offensive player Kansas sees this year, and it's imperative to double team him and force the other Buckeyes to win the game. As for Thomas, he takes a few more two point jumpers than Sullinger, but is converting at a 50% clip from there. Like Sullinger, he rarely turns it over and he's also probably Ohio State's most reliable three point shooter, at 35.5% in 138 attempts. Because Ohio State is so poor at shooting threes (33.2%) Kansas can afford to sag off people and force them to win the game from the perimeter, doubling Sullinger at every opportunity.
Of course, it's nice to know that Bill Self has repeatedly shown the ability to adjust all tournament, and I have no doubt he'll be able to do so one, and hopefully two, more times.