Pick and roll defense sinks Marquette

I love watching basketball at all levels, but don’t consider myself to be even an average tactician. I understand the basic strategies on offense and defense, but can never recognize plays in real time or quirks as they are unfolding.

And yet, here I was Thursday night, the neanderthal that I am at play recognition, yelling into the air that Marquette couldn’t defend a pick and roll to save a cute kitty’s life. Over and over again the Michigan bigs had open looks off the handoffs both at the rim and beyond the arc. Again, as I’m not the greatest tactician, it took pretty significant defensive breakdowns for me to be able to recognize the deficiencies as they occurred.

Luckily, as this was an ESPN telecast, I was able to go back into the tape and confirm my suspicion that yup, Marquette was beyond awful at guarding the P&R in the first half. But don’t take my word for it, let’s break it down frame by frame.

1st Possession

We weren’t even 20 seconds into the game before Michigan busted out a play it would beat Marquette over the head with time and again. Their mobile big Moritz Wagner hands off to Zak Irvin, screening Cheatham in the process. Luke chooses to stick with the ball handler Irvin, and sets up to cut off penetration.

Haanif also sticks with Irvin to double team the ball. However, Wagner rolls to the basket unencumbered and finds an easy, wide open lay-up to start the game.

Without having seen the game film from Howard and Vanderbilt, I do remember a lot of double teams and traps, so this is less a breakdown of P&R defense than a designed response. There was a breakdown in the support by the rest of Marquette, but the actual handling of the pick seems coordinated.

3rd Possession

Michigan once again goes with a high ball screen, with JJJ and Fisch as the defenders.

Instead of trapping, Fischer drops back to cut off penetration. Haanif does a good job of stepping towards the “roller” in Wagner, in prime position to pick the pass off while still preventing his man from being open. This is actually pretty good P&R defense, right?

Nope. Haanif bails too quickly on Wagner and loses sight of the ball in recovering to catch his man. Walton finds Wagner who sinks the open 3. The fault here probably isn’t on the design, per se, but on Haanif for bailing a second or two early.

4th Possession


A handoff screen involving Fisch and Haanif, where have we seen that before?


Much like the first time, both defenders stay with the ball and leave the Michigan roller (this time Donnal instead of Wagner) unattended. With no help anywhere near, Michigan finds the easiest two points since three possessions ago.

For real though, scroll back up to that first possession. Same play, same defenders, same result. You just can’t have that at this level. If you’re Wojo, this is the point where you either sub out, switch matchups or change up the double team.

5th Possession


This isn’t a straight P&R, but the results are oh so similar. Haanif goes to double in the corner, helping Traci with Walton. Looking at Traci’s positioning, it was probably by choice rather than design, though this is conjecture.


When Haanif stays too long with Walton, Irvin strolls to the arc gets an open look for another made 3 for Michigan.If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 5 possessions and 4 open shots.

6th Possession


Next time down the court, Irvin once again acts as ball handler off a P&R with Fisch and Traci defending. Fisch stays with the ball. Guess what happens next?


No help. Michigan big gets another easy lay up.

To sum it up, Michigan scored on five of its first six possessions without having one shot contested. Sure, the 3s aren’t as automatic as lay-ups, but this is a good shooting team. You can’t give them wide open opportunity after wide open opportunity right off the bat. And despite this poor defensive start, Marquette was right in it, only down 1 at the first TV timeout.

I do agree with Wojo that later offensive futility made the defense worse, but it was awful to begin with, even when the offense was cooking. With so many featured players contributing to the defensive breakdowns, you can’t even point the finger at someone and try to sub them out.

Fisch is too slow to both double the ball and cover his man. Haanif takes too long to make decisions. Traci gets swallowed up by screens. JJJ and Katin never recognized the open rollers despite it happening over and over again. If the design is broken, it’s up to the coach to change it up. Frankly, the change was too slow to come last night.

This is one game, and something they can definitely learn from, but the overarching theme is a sore spot that will rear its head all season. If a noob like me can spot it on the fly, you can bet Big East coaches will be licking their chops.

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One Comment on “Pick and roll defense sinks Marquette”

  1. Jim Cott
    November 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm #


    You are too gentle in your analysis. You are absolutely correct in your analysis of MU defense of pick and roll. The Michigan game was not an aberration. Marquette is NOT a good defensive team. I remember last year whne Henry looked just as lost in similar circumstances. Commentators and fans concluded that he had slow feet. The real problem however is coaching. How long will the Wojo experiment continue? He clIms he is “building a program”. As i recall the program was very successful under Buzz. This starting to feel like the Bob Dukiet era all over again.

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