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2010 Oklahoma State Basketball Primer: The Half-Court Offense (Part 1)

Being 10 games into the season and starting to hit the meat of the non-conference schedule, we figured it would be a good time to write our primer for the basketball season.  Sure we could have written this before the season started like a real blog... but with the Cowboys losing their top two scorers from last season, and all the new guys that were going to be seeing minutes, it would have been pure guesswork... like pre-season polls.  I mean Coach Ford didn't even figure out his best lineup until game 10.  So we will spend the next few days (or maybe weeks) breaking down all of Oklahoma State's players, the offensive and defensive sets, the schedule, and anything else we think of.  This may all happen in a few posts or in 20 posts, but it will happen, and you will hopefully walk away with a better understanding of this Oklahoma State team.

This installment will introduce you to the 2010 Cowboys half-court offense.  This is by no means an intro to "The Travis Ford Offense"... Coach Ford has proven that he tailors his offense to the personnel instead of the other way around, so there will be plenty of differences in this writeup than there would have been in one from say... last season. And to add another disclaimer, this writeup is not attempting to capture every single thing this offense does in the half-court, that would end up being 500,000 words and be the most boring thing ever written (besides this intro).  This writeup is just meant to give the novice basketball fan, or someone who hasn't seen the Cowboys play much, some idea of how they run their half-court sets.

Click the Jump for lots of diagrams and poorly drawn arrows.


In case you don't know, the half-court set is basically what the offense runs when the defense is back and in position at the start of the possession.  It is one of the more defining characteristics of a team.  Some teams are content to sit in the half-court for all 35 seconds, some try to get a shot up as quickly as possible, some collapse a lot of players under the basket, others open the lane up and position everyone at or beyond the three point line.

Like most teams, Oklahoma State runs a form of the "motion offense" when in the half-court set. While this sounds fancy, all "motion offense" really means is that there aren't a whole lot of set plays, instead the offensive players move within a basic set of rules that try to emphasize good floor spacing through cutting, screens, and passing (although some prefer to look at these movements as "plays", they aren't as clearly defined as say inbounds play). The other notable thing about the motion offense is Henry Iba is credited as its inventor (yeah us!).  Before him most plays were diagrammed move-by-move and if the defense figured it out you were screwed.

The most generic version of the motion offense features three backcourt players and 2 frontcourt players who all have pretty well-defined roles.  The basic setup looks like this:

From this basic set the offense will go into "motion", moving through lanes and paths that they have practiced and that the defense gives them.

Oklahoma State does this same thing, but the starting positions are usually tweaked and the patterns of movement vary depending on the situation and what is called.  To start off...let's take a look at the most common Cowboy set, and the most common things they do out of it (we will only be looking at the first few moves as after that it gets way too dependent on what the defense does and too many options become available to detail here).  Here is the common Cowboy starting set:

While pretty similar to the generic set above, the main difference is that the PF (4) starts in the high post area (usually this will be Marshall Moses).  A key component of starting the set this way is all the open floor space that is created from the left block out to the three point line (this can be, and is, run with the PG (1) on the left side as well).  The Cowboys will try to use this space in a lot of different ways.

One way they operate out of this set is the PG (1) will dribble to a screen set by the PF (4), and the SG (2) will run through the lane off of a screen set by the C (5) thus opening up a lot of opportunities on the left side of the court.

From this position the SG (2) and C (5) will try to create confusion down low while the other three players work for an open shot.  If nothing opens up, the SG (2) may try to pop open off of a screen out of the confusion in the lane.

A second option is to run a pick and roll.  To do this, instead of the SG (2) heading underneath, he will swing to the open area at the top of the key to be a passing option as the PG (1) and PF (4) attempt the pick and roll.

You see this executed pretty close to the same way (but a lot better) by the Phoenix Suns at the 0:17 mark of this video.

The third common option out of this set is for the PG (1) to pass to the SG (2) and trade places with him while the PF (4) and the C (5) move to the perimeter, opening up the lane.

Then the SG (2) will dribble to the middle of the floor, pass to the C (5) who has come to the top of the key, who passes to the PF (4) on the left wing, and the floor will now look like this:
This opens the middle for the C (5) and SG (2) to break to the basket as the PG (1) rotates back to the top of the key in position to run the offense again.  Now they are roughly in these positions:
At this point the the ball is back in the PG (1) hands, ready to operate, while the defense is still scrambling to get back into good position. There are a number of options out of this but the best are the SF (3) coming open in the corner, the C (5) setting a screen underneath for the SG (2) to come open in all the empty space on the right side of the court, or the PF (4) filling the empty space behind the 2 cutters into the lane and either having an open 10-15 foot shot or an open pass to whoever's defender comes to him from the C (5) or SG (2).  Again, what happens after the first few moves will be dictated by how the defense is very much a chess games with very athletic pieces.

Keep in mind that this is only one set of many that the Cowboys will use.  I have noticed that when Ray Penn or Fred Gulley are in at PG this is the most commonly run set and corresponding sequences.  When Keiton Page is at PG, the motion is similar, but it is often someone else initiating and running the offense. So Page will bring the ball up, then pass it off to Darrell Williams (for example) who will run through similar motions that PG (1) goes through in these diagrams, while Page slides back into the SG (2) role.

So that is it for the basic intro to the Cowboy's most common half-court set.  In parts 2 through 14 I will run through more options from this set, some other sets that are run, what they try to accomplish after the first few moves, good scoring setups, and some set plays the Cowboys do run (spoiler: most of them involve running Keiton around 11 screens).