Last week on the Buckeye Basketball Breakdown we looked at the way Wisconsin had used the on-ball screen (or ball screen) to open up their three point shooters.  Sadly, that strategy worked wonders for Michigan State, Purdue and again for Illinois just last night.  All three teams took advantage of the inexperience of Craft and Sullinger to get open looks from beyond the arc.

In last night’s game, Illinois connected on a unbelievable 8-9 (88.89%) of their three point shots in the first half.  A lot of that had to do with their ability to screen Craft off his man and pop off a quick shot before Sullinger could respond.  However, the Buckeyes adjusted admirably in the second half, forcing Illinois to shoot 1-9 from three in the last stanza.

This switch in strategy is a direct mentality of having found a weakness in the Buckeye’s defense.  Consider that before Wisconsin found their new magic bullet, OSU had climbed to a 15 point lead and looked like they were going to make the Badgers pay for the 0-7 Buckeye record in the Kohl Center.

Luckily, it’s looking like Matta and the Buckeyes are learning to handle this new threat, while keeping it from enabling other offensive looks.  The win over Illinois last night was particularly impressive in that regard.

Let’s move away from the negative from here.  I think there’s enough negative energy floating around the Buckeye Basketball circles as it is (for no good reason, I might add).  What I want to talk about today is the second part of screening a shooter for an open look; the off-ball screen.

The off-ball screen is equally valuable, and possibly even more valuable, than a ball screen as a component to an offensive play.  While the on-ball screen attempts to free up the ball handler directly, an off-ball screen is designed to open a player up for a quick pass and shot before the defender can recover.

Ohio State has often used off-ball screens as a means of freeing up Jon Diebler.  This is particularly true since his sophomore year, when his outside shot started falling.  In fact, we used it much more frequently then, as Diebler hadn’t yet established his dribble drive.  A three point shooter with an effective dribble drive is a lot more dangerous than a three point shooter without one.

The Buckeyes do, however, continue to use the off-ball screen and in a myriad of different ways.  The play we’ll examine today is a variation on the most basic off-ball screen to open up Diebler, ultimately resulting in a Buford three pointer.  The play again comes from the Wisconsin game, much like last week’s.

First, let’s understand how you run an off-ball screen, and what you hope to accomplish in doing so.

The vast majority of plays of this type involve a shooter, moving without the ball, running under the basket from one side of the court to the other.  Generally, he will run towards the side of the court where the ball handler is.

But, the defender, particularly if he’s playing tight defense on a good shooter, is going to stay right with #2 the whole way.  All we’ve succeeded in doing is unbalancing our offense.

However, what if #2 instead brushes past the shoulder of his big man in the paint.  If the big man is setting a proper screen the can force the defender to slow down and move around that screen.  That brief pause in time is usually enough to free up the shooter to receive a quick pass and take a shot.

The advantage of this strategy is two fold:

1) The defense cannot use a switch.  If a switch occurs, the screening offender is in fantastic position for an entry pass.  His new defender (the guy he screened) is out of position.  Also, the bigger defender is equally out of position to defend the three point shooter, lacking the momentum or burst to get to the shooter in time.

2) #2′s defender is often not in a position, while keeping his eyes on his man, to see the screen off his shoulder.  This enhances the quality of the screen, preventing the player from reacting to it until it has already happened.

Many, many teams in college basketball use these screens when they have a great shooter they want to get open.  In fact, rarely will you see a game where an off-ball screen doesn’t occur.  It is simply too useful.  Because of its ubiquity, it is therefore always in the back of the defender’s mind.  If a shooter runs under the basket, the defender knows what is going on and that he needs to hurry to avoid it.

The Buckeyes took advantage of that on this play against Wisconsin.  As usual, clicking on the image provides a larger view.

Ohio State comes down the court in a very compact set, looking to contain the entire Wisconsin defense in the paint.  This keeps the three point arcs at the wings free of defenders so that the play can be run without interference.  Notice that Sully (#5) is high on the right, while OSU’s three scorers (Buford (#3), Diebler (#2) and Lighty (#4)) are low.

The play starts with Diebler running around the outside and brushing past Lighty, who sets the screen.  Diebler comes around to the top of the key and catches the anticipated pass from Craft (#1).

When you watch the film below, notice that Diebler’s man see’s the screen, and effectively avoids it.  He ends up about a second slow, but doesn’t quite give Diebler enough time to take a shot.

At the point that Diebler was catching the pass, Buford surprises his man by suddenly running past Lighty, who has drifted further into the paint.  The rest of the Wisconsin defense isn’t expecting anything, and is slow to react to what OSU is doing.

Diebler, seeing Buford make his move, tosses a pass to the point where Buford catches and shoots.  Buford’s man is way behind, having been forced even further off Buford’s pass as Sullinger backed into the corner.  This leaves the defender horrendously out of position to defend Buford’s shot.

Fortunately, the shot goes in.  I say fortunately because the play put Wisconsin in the best position to collect the rebound.  Lighty has backed out of the paint on the left side, and his man is in perfect position for a boxout.  Sullinger is in terrible position, having been used in screening Buford.  Craft and Diebler are up around the three point arc, and Diebler is even starting to back up to defend a possible fast break.

Plays like this serve to set the defense back and force them out of position.  By setting up the play – making the defense expect the screen and shot from Diebler – they allowed Buford to get a perfect open look at the basket.  That’s the type of shot he doesn’t miss.