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Evaluating Kansas Basketball's Zone Offense

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In my recap of the Oklahoma game, I noted that Kansas seemed to struggle against the Oklahoma zone defense. They had played fairly well against zones in the past, so I was curious as to just how poorly they did against the Sooners on Saturday.

quick note: I only have nine possessions against their zone documented here. There were more, but I took out all transition possessions as well as ones where they went back and forth between man to man and zone.

First, the numbers:

Possessions: 9

Turnovers: 1

Types of shots: three point shot (x4), alley oop (x2), dunk, lay-up

Offensive rebounds: 2 (1 possession)

Points: 10

Of the four threes, two of them were taken by Teahan at the first available shot. Given that it's Teahan and that's why he's on the team I don't have a huge problem with it, but it's no doubt possible to create a better shot, as we'll see after the jump:

First, a general intro on how to attack the zone: It is pretty easy in theory, (though often not in practice) you want to attack the top of the lane (I would ideally like it to be beyond the free throw line for spacing purposes, but it all depends on the player and the defense), or the short corners:


Next, let's look at the possession. First, the ball is entered to the left to our newly minted superstar Travis Releford. From here, Releford has three real options: passing to the middle to Withey (probably the best one), trying to get it to Robinson (the most risky), or reversing it to Johnson. He also obviously has the opportunity to beat his man off the dribble. He chooses probably the most optimal pass, entering it to the middle to Withey:


Withey now is in the proverbial catbird's seat. He catches with his back to the basket but he can turn and shoot, kick it to Releford, Johnson or Teahan for three, or if Robinson's man helps off (which would be crazy) he has a free assist. Seeing two players sucking in on him he finds an open Teahan in the corner:


Given Teahan's three point prowess and his role on the team, the pretty open three is a good shot against a zone. But he probably was a little gun shy given his two earlier misses from the baseline, and instead he chooses to kick back to Johnson. These two passes were in rapid succession, which is another key to attacking the zone. Getting the defense moving quickly both confuses it and causes holes to open up, leading to easy buckets. Here Johnson exploits that by driving into the lane:


The defense now has no choice but to suck in on Johnson, who could kick it to either Teahan or Releford for wide open threes, or shoot a jumper/floater/runner. He settles on a half decent one (sarcasm alert!), tossing it to Robinson for an alley oop:


Now let's watch the textbook play in glorious video form:

There's definitely a reason I picked that play, as they didn't all look that pretty, but while last year's team thrived on the talent and familiarity of the Morris twins, as well as outside shooting from Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, this year's crew will have to do it by making smart passes (gulp) and by being more athletic than their opponents. We should expect to see a lot of zone in the future, and how well the Jayhawks attack it could be the difference in the Big 12 title race.