When Brad Underwood was first hired at Oklahoma State, he said the hallmark of his Cowboys teams would be defense. His defensive style is aggressive, picking up at full court man-to-man and getting in the passing lanes forcing turnovers. In non-conference play, the defense looked good, but still needed improvement. We all knew the biggest litmus test was going to be once conference play started. Once the Cowboys started playing Big 12 opponents, the defense looked abysmal. They were giving up an average of 86 points per game through the first six conference games, all of which were losses. At times they looked a step slower on defense and were not picking up the rotations quick enough to contest a shot. Heading into Lubbock on January 21, the Pokes were staring an 0-7 start to conference play in the face.
But then they left Lubbock with a win, defeating the Red Raiders 83-64. The defense in that game was spectacular, giving up 22 points less than they were averaging in conference play to that point. Oklahoma State followed that victory up with another fantastic defensive performance, beating TCU 89-76, and on Saturday the Cowboys won 99-71. So what changed for the Cowboys between the first six conference games and the last three games?
Let’s start with the Kansas State game a couple of weeks ago.
From watching four different defensive possessions, I noticed a few things. I’ll break down each one.
A couple things went wrong. For one, Solomon was late on the help from the high ball screen, causing the K-State player to get an easy path to the bucket. Secondly, Hammonds was ball watching and his man snuck out to the 3-point line for the easy open shot. This was just a mishap in rotation when the help is out of position.
K-State extended the offense up far beyond the three point line to see if the defense would sneak up too, which it did. Jeffrey Carroll was two passes away from his man so he was in the right position, but he was watching the ball only, and his man was able to sneak underneath him for the easy layup.
The Cowboys did a great job of collapsing in the lane when the Wildcat player drove, cutting off a possible lane to the bucket. On the second drive attempt with the pass to the corner, Dillard was just late on the close out. Not much could’ve been done there, in basketball great offense will always beat great defense.
The first part of the possession was great defensively. Solomon did a great job helping Carroll on the on ball screen, and Hammonds picked up Solomon’s man on the roll to the bucket until he could get back. The shot came when Evans got a little too far away from his man. It was good that he was in help defense, but he was too far into help to be able to get back to his man when the ball got there.
Overall what I found watching the game was that the Cowboys at times were too aggressive in the passing lanes and getting beat for easy layups or shots, or they were getting caught up in rotations and could not get back to their man, leading to easy buckets.
Now, let’s check out the Cowboys against the Horned Frogs and see if there is a difference.
Again, I’ll break down four defensive possessions.
It looks like the defense is collapsed in a little bit to start out. The Cowboys are still in man to man, but they are not extending the defense out so there is much space on the floor for TCU to attack the gaps. Here we see it start by a dump down pass to Parrish, Carroll does get beat a little bit, but keeps him on his hip so he does not have a good angle to the bucket. As Parrish gets closer to the bucket, Cameron McGriff comes over in help and cuts him off from going for a reverse layup. This was great help defense by McGriff and a great recovery by Carroll after getting beat on the initial dribble.
On this possession, Brandon Averette does two things right. He plays great man to man on the TCU player he is guarding, then once the pass is thrown to the corner, he jumps off the ball into help, and takes the charge on the drive. Even though Forte got beat, Averette was in the right position to help and ultimately prevent the basket.
TCU was able to get in the lane (Averette was expecting his man to use the on ball screen but he didn’t), but McGriff, Carroll, and Averette were able to collapse down, take away the layup and the passing lane, making for an easy steal for Evans.
This was textbook help defense in the lane. Parrish had a clear shot to the lane, but Solomon cut him off, and three other orange jerseys collapsed in, forcing the steal.
From what I have gathered and watched, the defensive adjustment was very minor. Rather than extending the defense out and putting lots of pressure on the perimeter, it looks like the Cowboys are now playing in the gaps below the 3 point line, forcing either ill-advised jumpers or funneling the ball-handler into the middle where the help is, forcing a turnover. This small adjustment by Brad Underwood is paying dividends.