Notebook: Turnovers, Poor Screen Defense Doom Eagles Against UVA

As Connar Tava whipped a bullet pass to Mo Jeffers, standing beneath the basket, the fans at Conte Forum leaned forward in their seats. Only the most trivial part of the play stood in the way of the Eagles taking advantage of a rare defensive miscue by No. 16 University of Virginia.

But underneath the rim, Jeffers unexpectedly hesitated with the ball, giving the Cavaliers’ Jack Salt time to recover to his man. Then, with his opportunity at an easy bucket dwindling, Jeffers reached around to the opposite side of the basket and heaved up a difficult layup with his left hand. The ball rolled harmlessly off the front of the rim and plopped softly into the hands of Kyle Guy.

Jeffers’ point-blank miss was emblematic of Wednesday night’s game, coming in the midst of an extended 24-5 UVA run that blew open a game that the Eagles once tied 8-8. In the Cavaliers’ easy 71-54 victory over BC (9-10, 2-4 Atlantic Coast)—the team’s first home loss in ACC play—sloppy execution, missed shots and a lack of intensity plagued coach Jim Christian’s team.

The disheartening part about this contest was that UVA (14-3, 4-2) head coach Tony Bennett didn’t even feel that his team played up to its lofty standards, particularly on the defensive end of the court, attributing BC’s point total to its missed shots instead of his team’s defensive effort.

BC shot just 5-for-20 from beyond the arc, which essentially doomed it against Bennett’s famed Packline defense, which walls off the paint at all costs and dares opponents to let it fly from downtown. Making threes against UVA—which entered the game allowing conference opponents to shoot 40 percent from 3-point range—provides a steady source of offense and might even force the Cavs to extend their defense an extra step or two, providing the offense valuable interior spacing. Unfortunately for BC, at no point during the game did the team even threaten to accomplish this goal.

“Against [UVA], the shots you get that are makeable, good shots, you have to make,” Christian said. “And we didn’t make them.”

Three Up

1.) Slipping Screens—As part of its concerted effort to keep the ball out of the paint, UVA hedges on virtually every opposing pick-and-roll. The big man guarding the screener steps out so that he is level with the ball handler and impeding his ability to quickly turn the corner and head to the rim. Ideally, this forces the ball handler to either pick up his dribble or back out near half court, with both options forcing the opponent to reset its offense.

Such a predictable method of defense, however, can occasionally prove to be a drawback, especially when the opposing big man slips his screen. Slipping a screen usually entails running up to the ball handler, as if to set a normal screen, before abruptly changing direction and diving to the rim or popping into open space. If a defender is not paying attention and blindly executing the defensive gameplan, the screener can get an uncontested basket or draw a foul when the defense rotates over to him in a panic.

Both Jeffers and Nik Popovic slipped screens a few times in the first half.

Jeffers drew a foul on the above play, where he drops past a completely unaware Salt and into the paint.

Popovic waited a bit longer to slip his screen in the above clips, watching for the UVA big man to commit to hedging the screen before deftly slithering into the vacated area. In the second clip, his roll to the basket drew a foul.

2.) Popovic Hook Shot—Popovic also displayed good touch around the basket on Wednesday night.

On both of the above possessions, after gaining control of an offensive rebound, the Bosnian freshman planted his right foot, turned over his right shoulder and lofted a soft hook shot with his left hand. For a player that has sometimes struggled to find a go-to move in the post this season, those two shots were an impressive display of skill with his non-dominant hand. If he can become comfortable with taking a few dribbles and turning into a lefty jump hook, the Eagles might siphon some of their occasional post ups from Jeffers to Popovic. Developing a counter move with his right hand, when the defender goes to take away his first move, will be the next step in the process.

3.) Jordan Chatman—The 23-year-old guard scored a career-high 16 points in Wednesday’s defeat. Chatman was accurate as usual from beyond the arc—where he is shooting 38.6 percent—drilling two catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.

In a break from many of his games this season, Chatman also proved very effective inside the arc, making four 2-point baskets, despite having only made 12 such baskets entering the game. He showed an ability to put the ball on the floor when forced off the 3-point line, hitting a difficult pull-up jumper and even driving all the way to the basket for a contested layup.

 

“I thought tonight was the best game that Jordan has played since he got here,” Christian said. “He was aggressive, he was confident, he shot the ball well.”

Though Chatman has largely served as a spot-up shooter this season, his most recent showing does indicate an ability to contribute a bit more. If he can consistently extend plays on which his defender closes out to him at the 3-point line—whether he takes one step in for a jumper, attacks the rim or just keeps the ball moving—he will be able to earn some more minutes as a perfect complement to the Eagles’ ball-dominant backcourt of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman.

Three Down

1.) Live Ball Turnovers—The Eagles committed 16 turnovers Wednesday night, while only forcing UVA to commit five. As a result, the Cavaliers outscored BC 26-0 on points off of turnovers. Many of BC’s turnovers were live ball turnovers, in which UVA was able to pick up the ball and get out in transition. Even if the Cavs couldn’t score on the initial push up the court, they manufactured good offense early in the shot clock, with the Eagles’ defense still trying to set itself.

Tava had five turnovers in the game, which usually resulted from him trying to make a play from the perimeter. The Eagles ran offense in which either Bowman or Robinson would come off of screens by Jeffers or Popovic. With the center rolling to the rim, attracting help defense, and the ball-handler virtually doubled by the Cavs’ hedging big man, Tava was often left unattended at the 3-point line. Unfortunately for Tava, those shots have never been his forte. The graduate transfer was just 1-for-4 from beyond the arc on Wednesday night. Many times, he passed up open looks for drives into the paint, attacks along the baseline or attempts at finding a teammate in the post. These forced plays, which often ended in turnovers, gave UVA a significant advantage running down the floor.

BC also had quite a few unforced errors, in which it simply gave the ball away. The above play, which resulted in a fastbreak dunk, was emblematic of the Eagles’ struggles during the game.

“We can’t have 16 turnovers against them, because they don’t pressure you,” Christian said.

The Eagles now have the worst turnover rate in the ACC and opponents generate steals on 11.7 percent of BC’s offensive possessions, the 343rd-worst mark in the country, according to kenpom.com.

2.) Screen Defense—UVA’s offense, which works extremely deliberately, can essentially be boiled down to one ball-handler at the 3-point arc with a guard coming off of a screen on each side of the floor. This constant screening and motion really tests a defense’s off-ball defense and its ability to stick to players through multiple screens. Bennett frequently has a guard catch the ball coming off of a screen on one side of the floor, with no other players in the area, essentially creating a rapid pick and roll with no help defenders in the area. The Eagles really struggled to defend this action.

In the above clip, Darius Thompson comes around a screen by Isaiah Wilkins, with A.J. Turner trailing the play. To help his teammate, Tava steps forward into the Thompson’s path, which leaves a window for the junior guard to hit Wilkins with a nice pocket pass for the easy dunk. Because of the location of the play, near the corner, unless it comes instantaneously, help defense is mostly useless. As a result, this play needs to be defended exclusively by the two players involved in the action. Several times during the game, BC failed to do so, with its big men over-helping and giving up layups and dunks as a result. To solve this issue, the guard’s defender must fight over the screen and the big man defender must quickly slide back after initially helping, attempting to coax the opposing guard into a tough floater.

Additionally, if the player defending the guard loses contact with his body, the play can turn into a catch and shoot opportunity, like the one converted above by Marial Shayok. Robinson loses contact with his man, allowing him to flare away from the screen and get an uncontested shot.

3.) Robinson’s Slump—After scoring over 20 points in 11 of his last 12 games, Robinson has now scored nine points in consecutive ACC games. After going 4-for-14 from the floor against UVA, with four turnovers and zero assists, the Eagles’ leading scorer is officially in a little bit of a slump. The good news for BC fans is that his shot portfolio on Wednesday night wasn’t significantly different from the shots he took during his hot stretch.

The above play, in which Robinson misses a layup after curling off of a pin-down screen on the weak side of the floor, is a staple of the Eagles’ offense and one on which he has scored numerous times in the last few weeks. While the UVA defense and its commitment to protecting the paint certainly played a role in the performance, Robinson also missed a bunch of shots he has been making lately. Overall, Christian doesn’t see cause for concern.

“I’m not making any excuse for him, but I was more concerned with his defense,” Christian said. “He’ll come out of it. He’s a good player.”

With a variety of effective moves to separate for jumpers around 15 feet from the hoop and a mindset to attack the rim, Robinson should return to his prior levels of scoring with some minor adjustments and fewer off-the-dribble 3-pointers.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff