1-1-1-2/Say What! Or Out of the Cradle Endlessly Masking

  • Though it flew under radar, as in almost no one seemed to comment, Self deployed that rarest of rare zone presses, yes, a 3/4 court 1-1-1-2.

    SAY WHAT?!

    Yep the one and only time I saw it was against Arizona State a few years back, when that little known Okie Baller was interim head coach and was assisted by some connoisseur of weird defenses. Both names I now forget. They ran the 1-1-1-2 and it gave KU some problems beyond simple surprise and recognition. Why?

    The three 1s deploy based on matchups the offense cannot anticipate. The two 2s play like a pair of free safeties. It is only loosely a zone press at all. It is akin to Self’s weird triangle and two, where the triangle plays something halfway between zone and m2m and the two play zone. In the 1-1-1-2, the 1-1-1 play something between zone and m2m, while the two play zone.

    Why does Self go mostly for the weirdest of the weird in zones? The common thread is choosing zones where KU STILL PLAYS SOME M2M.

    Why does Self lean to m2m even in zone? Fetish or reason?

    First, Self likes his zones to be a surprise. He mostly plays m2m. Part of the surprise is playing zone at all. But another part of the surprise is deferring as long as possible the recognition of his zone. He masks its deployment. as long as he can. When he is in it, you are not sure he is in it. Further he likes zones that can be played various ways from the same initial “formation;” this seems to track to Self’s Okie roots in football. Football has long relied on single formations out of which several possible plays could be run; I.e., the sameness of the formation masked the point of attack, or defense. And here is where the 1-1-1-2 press comes in.

    The 1-1-1 part is like an I-formation in football from which many kinds of zones, or even m2m coverage can emerge. The symmetry of the I-formation even discourages an opponent from guessing which. Even when you recognize it you cannot be sure what it will do. In fact the two men at the back can even be decoys masking an actual m2m press all the way.

    Self is a wily devil that masks what he does. He is happy at KU, but. Black is fine till he shows up in a boot. Zones are not who we are, till we play them, er, till we appear to play them.

    The 1-1-1-2 is a zone press till it’s not. And even when it is, you can’t be sure how it will deploy.

    Does Self wear a rug, or cut his hair that way, so if he ever does need to wear a rug, we won’t recognize it?

    Eisenhower was like this at Normandy. Even when he finally committed to invade, and the Germans saw them coming they were not absolutely sure what they were seeing, i.e., of what was coming next.

    Keeping an opponent guessing about what is happening even as it is happening is one of the greatest tactical advantages of all. Just ask the Confederacy as Sherman began a march to eviscerate the heart of the South and at any moment he could march in any direction and accomplish his mission.

    The 1-1-1-2 might never be seen again. But if opponents were to see it again, opponents would not be able to be sure of what it would actually do.

  • @jaybate Interesting reading you and @highelitemajor’s thoughts on zones the last couple days. I’m totally in favor of pressing randomly if for nothing but to mix it up and not let the other team get comfortable. One of the only concerns I’ve ever had w HCBS is how he tends to stick w “his stuff” too long in losses especially against mid majors in the tourney. Might he be saving some of these looks for March to surprise teams or would he need to run these now to refine?

  • From Bleacher Report today: Record: 15-4 (6-0 Big 12)

    "The rest of the country would be best off if the NCAA tournament would hurry up and get here for Kansas.

    Bill Self’s team—in particular freshmen Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden—are improving at such a rapid pace that the Baby Jayhawks have turned into the best offense in the country outside of the three-point bombers at Creighton.

    Since conference play has started, KU’s offense only trails Creighton in efficiency among the major conferences."

    I’ve noticed how hard Self has been riding these Freshmen. He yells at Wiggins just as much as he does Greene. I’ve wondered how these boy’s have turned into men so quickly. Yet as Coach is in each face during the huddle, you see wide open eyes and nodding heads that know they are being imparted wisdom and absorbing it appreciatively. They are having fun on the bench, jumping for joy as Self continues to scowl throughout the entire game. I wonder where KU would be without Self these last 11 years?

  • @wrwlumpy

    Nice post. Also, in my opinion, Niko Roberts seems the most enthusiastic player on the bench. He always has big smile and is constantly cheering for the team; nice to see the spirit.

  • @jaybate 1.0 Question, is the triangle and 2 similar to the 1 2 1 1? I hope Coach goes to zone more often this year, gotta start using his L&A’s to mess with the other team, force more TOs.

  • @jaybate 1.0 Another question, If zone was so tough, why isn’t it more often used? For example, the top winning programs; UK, KU, UNC, Duke all play m2m most of the time. If it was so unbeatable, it should just be The Way. Instead, from what I can tell, most teams play m2m and throw in the occasional zone to mess with the other team.

  • @Lulufulu85

    I think few college teams master the zone because it requires team meshing of choreography on every single play. M2M requires more team help on specifics, like when a man gets beat off the dribble or ball screen.

    I think it is tougher to play zone at a level that can win a NC. But it is easier to play a zone that can just be competitive (versus a M2M being competitive). Got to hand it to Boeheim and his infamous (and basic) 2-3… he does it well because he knows how to teach it, and he specifically recruits to fill those positions… tall and quick.

    Self has shown (an endless amount of times) how to attack zones.

    I pity the poor fools that come out and play us in March with a zone. In the least, they better mix it up constantly, maybe throwing some junk defenses and M2M. But if anyone thinks they are going to stop this team from scoring by playing straight zone all game will be in for a big batch of beat down. Yes… that was an easy answer for us early in the year, but we are finally starting to roll out a structured offense. Self is one of the best at smashing zones.

    The big reason why Self will take quick ball movement over having low TOs is because quick ball movement opens up the door to smash zone defenses, like the 2-3.

    This is the year I’m really praying for a shot at Syracuse! They basically have all their eggs in one basket and we’ll crush their basket of eggs!

  • I believe Self said earlier this season that playing a zone all the time is basically saying you aren’t good enough to guard a team straight up.

  • @wrwlumpy Our offense is about 3 or 4 runs outs short a game of being spectacular. I think it will come. We’re real close now. I’m hoping they round into shape on the defensive end as well. They aren’t a bad defensive team now, but they’re not a KU caliber lockdown defense yet. I’m hoping that’s the next step.

  • @Lulufulu85, the triangle and two that I referred to is a half court zone defense, not a press. When it sets up it often looks like a standard 3-2 zone of the kind that Trent Johnson and TCU tried on KU last game. However, I think triangle and two is not the correct name for referring to it, so I am sorry if I confused you. Alas, I can’t recall the proper name.

    Note: a classic triangle and two is a half court zone-man hybrid, but it uses three guys guarding zones in a triangular configuration in the paint–two guys baseline and one in the middle of the paint, while the other guys are assigned to chase the two best scoring threats man to man. The box and one is another half court variation of this. Four guys form a square–two baseline, two out at the free throw line, while one chases the best scorer man to man.

    With the above clarified, the 1-1-1-2 is a 3/4 court zone press.

    The 1-2-1-1 is also a 3/4 court zone press, that is sometimes also played full court. When played full court, the object is to try to draw the offensive team into inbounding the ball near baseline to either side of the floor, So that the point defender and the wing defender can immediately trap him. From the moment the trapping starts, then all other defenders are trying to anticipate desperation passes down the sideline and intercept the pass down the sideline. The offense is trying either to get the ball down the sideline before it can be intercepted, or get the ball back out into middle court and away from traps. The defense, if it does not get an interception, then is racing down the court to stop the long pass and the easy basket.

    The 1-1-1 part of the 1-1-1-2 is in I-formation. When the offense commits to one side or the other, the defense follows rules about which of the next two defenders will confront the ball. If the ball is dribbled right or left, then the point defender will force him one way and then either the second or third defender may play for a trap, or play to strip the pass. If the ball is immediately passed to a wing, then the I-formation may morph into something close to a 1-2 formation, backpedaling and looking for a trap on the wing.

    Regardless of what kind of zone press you play, the idea is not necessarily always to trap, but to trap sometimes and other times to back peddle and contain and try to get the person with the ball to pick up his dribble, THEN rush to him and trap. And still other times the zone press may just keep back peddling until it is just behind mid court and then it tries to trap at the point where the sideline and the mid court line meet. And still other times the zone press is just a long accordion that never traps but rather backpedals until the ball reaches a few feet farther than the offense normally likes to set up, applies some pressure to get the ball handler to initiate farther out and then the press melts into a man to man.

  • @Lulufulu85, regarding “if zone was so tough, why isn’t it more often used?”

    slayr’s explanation captures much of the answer. If you are not very talented, i.e, if most opponents hold MUAs on most of your players, then playing m2m means you are getting beat one on one all over the floor, regardless of how hard you guard. So: with less talent, you play zone to try to force a superior opponent to have to play inside 20 feet against almost constant double teams that result from zone defense. Further, keeping your inferior players packed in tight in a zone makes it much tougher for more talented opponents to control the glass on you. Playing a dense pack zone leaves a team with superior talent with the option of trying to beat you outside, which depends on variable hot hands at shooting. Next, for all the lesser teams you play that are at your level of talent, or below, then you probably want to play some man, and some zone to trigger some recognition problems, and so that you can handle the more frequent mismatches you face various ways.

    But playing zone when you have a lot of talent risks two undesirable things: a) telling the opponent exactly where his MUAS will be on the floor; and b) a greater fatigue factor playing a zone optimally.

    First, is the point I have been trying to make in my discussions of late. Suppose you have MUAs at 4 of 5 positions, but the 5 th position the other team has a huge MUA. If you play, say, a 2-3 zone most times down the floor, then a coach like Self is going to have his team play hot potato side to side to get your guys expending energy to move the zone rapidly in a big arc of sliding, while Self’s guys are mostly just staying put and zinging the ball around the perimeter. Doing this time and time again down the floor burns up your energy budget more than Self’s team’s energy budget. And while your zone is sliding side to side, Self is weaving his one guy with MUA again and again into the part of the zone where his one guy holds maximum MUA. This means that once the ball gets to that guy with big MUA, at the always known location, then the zone has to collapse from several directions to shut off the sure score, and at that point, one quick pass to several locations can result in a quick score. Playing a zone means you are telling a coach like Self exactly where the vulnerability is every time down the floor and his guys can get very comfortable playing for that MUA and exploiting it. And of course Self can also pass it inside, collapse the zone, and kick out to a relatively open trey. A patient, sound passing team, with just one or two positions with MUA can basically surgically cut even a very good zone apart AND tire it out.

    As I was schooled by an old alias named 100 several years ago, to really play a zone optimally, all the players have to keep their feet chopping non stop so as to be ready to move the zone around quickly in response to quick passing. This constant chop over the course of 40 minutes means a zone defense team is actually burning up more of their energy budget than does even the hardest guarding man to man defense. This is critical to a coach like Self, who’s philosophy is: create the space for impact players to make impact plays when needed, especially down the stretch. When a Self team plays a zone team, unless the zone team is sharply more talented at most positions, or unless the Self team lacks good outside shooting to keep the zone team from dense packing its zone, Self’s impact players are going to be a lot fresher and more bouncy at the end than will be the zone team. As a result, Self’s impact players tend to win the game down the stretch.

    So: the answer as to why more teams don’t play it goes something like this:

    a) if you are blue blood with a lot of talent aiming for rings in March, you tend to want to play man to man so that your talented impact players are fresher than zone teams and as fresh as man to man teams in order to win the impact game whenever talent is very evenly distributed among both teams; and

    b) if you are a mid pack, or an also ran, you want to play a lot of both zone and man–zone against the superior teams, and man against your equals and lessers.

  • @jaybate 1.0 THx Jaybate for the definitive description there. It makes sense.

  • @drgnslayr Thanks Drgn

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