Random Thoughts: Greg Marshall's Future & KU Defense

  • Following VCU’s impressive (and heartbreaking) run to the Final Four in 2011, many college basketball pundits questioned whether Shaka Smart would be leaving the mid-major ranks and jumping into the deep end with the big boys. Smart ultimately turned down offers from bigger programs to stay with what he had built.

    Underneath that surface action perhaps lies the truth. To me, Smart was afraid. Turning down the opportunity said that he did not believe he could be successful at the next level. Think about it. If VCU goes 15-16 does anyone really care? Does any administrator at VCU really care? Of course not. He’s the savior that led the Rams to the promise land (at least in their eyes, because let’s be real, a FF is untouchable to many low-tier schools. Just ask Mizery). Could Smart go to a UCLA and flounder? Could Smart afford to miss the tournament multiple years and keep his job? Of course not. So my question is, with the amount of success that Wichita St. has had in the past two years does Marshall strike while the iron is hot? Does he jump to an Oklahoma St.? It’s an interesting question. Because let’s be honest. How long can WSU fans remain loyal? If they go to the NIT next year, will anyone care? Of course not. So my question to you board rats is: Does Marshall leave WSU in the next year?

    Now to a different topic entirely: KU’s defense.

    Why is it that Bill Self stubbornly clings to his man-to-man philosophy when we obviously lack the personnel to execute it? People say that KU will only go as far as Wiggins and Embiid will take us in the tourney. I think that we only go as far as Tharpe and Ellis take us, and if Wiggins and Embiid contribute their averages, it’s a bonus. The problem is that those two variables (Tharpe and Ellis) are possibly our two worst defenders (not to mention soft at times). How vulnerable are we when we can’t afford to have those two guys on the floor because of how much of a liability they are defensively? The answer I came to yesterday is that our ceiling is a sweet sixteen loss. So again, I ask you board rats: Why don’t we have variations of defense?

    I can probably answer that question myself. Self has said numerous times that when a team goes to zone, we’ve already got them beat. They’ve given up and are waving the white flag. Jim Boeheim disagrees, but that’s not the point. The point is that with two of our players being so crucial to our tournament success, we need to find a way to mask our defensive deficiencies and find a way to keep them on the floor. Tharpe looked like a screen door yesterday (I’m referring to the play that @HighEliteMajor pointed out yesterday). Mason is a good alternative, but he’s too foolish when it comes to driving on a triple team, and he doesn’t have the shooting ability that Tharpe does (although I have been pleasantly surprised lately). We need Tharpe and Ellis’ offensive contribution, but right now they’re gaping defensive holes. We must find a solution. The solution is probably more obvious though: Zone.

    Lastly, as for defensive strategies that Self stubbornly clings to, yesterday reminded me of the game against VCU in 2011. I found myself asking Self (that’s right I talk to the TV), “are you going to wait until WV us up thirty before we start playing a full court press?” In the game against VCU, it seemed we had no choice, but when a team is hitting any shot they throw up the way WV was in the first half, we must speed them up, and turn that 35 second shot clock into a 25 second shot clock. This is another way to mask our deficiencies on defense. We will run into a hot-shooting team in the tournament. Mark it down. It’s going to happen. We need to have a strategy to challenge that, because as of right now, we’re content to just let them shoot. Not a good call. And what makes it even more frustrating is that when we do press, IT WORKS!!! We play it fairly well. We force timeouts, 5 second calls, and turnovers. So why don’t we do it more often?

    Help me out here board rats. I haven’t posted in a while so this is kind of all coming out at once. Let me know what you think.

  • Good post Moonwalk.

    There have been a couple times this year when they did press, but it has not been done regularly. Could it be that Self is saving a strategy to deal with a hot shooting team until the tournament? I find it hard to believe that Self doesn’t know what to do to deal with a hot shooting team.

    I will disagree with your statement about not having the personnel to play man to man defense the way Self teaches it. They have shown at times to be able to do it. The problem is that they do not do it on a consistent basis.

  • Self usually holds that press tightly to his chest for the tournament run.

    That’s also when he breaks out the triangle and two, or box in 1 and even the 1-3-1 zone D that traps in the corners.

    I am sure they practice this all season but why show your hand until you need to?

  • Interesting question about Marshal. It might depend on how he thinks he can recruit at WSU. I don’t know who he has coming in, or right now, who is graduating. I know one thing. The MVC is really weak right now. He could dominate for awhile unless those teams get better. I don’t think Self is going to a zone on a regular basis. He will throw the zone up to change things up or go to one of the junk defenses as needed. I agree that there is no need to show his hand now.

  • Wichita State is losing Cleanthony Early, a big loss, and a few other role playing seniors; the core of the team is coming back. Baker and VanVleet are sophomores so they have two more years unless they bolt to the NBA.

    Most of the mock drafts have Early as a second round or not listed; I saw one that had Baker listed as second round pick.

    Marshall has at least one more year and likely two with the current core. My guess is that he will take another good ride next year and maybe the year after and then he is gone.

  • @JayHawkFanToo not sure, but think he’s got a big kid from the Bahamas. Believe he’s a transfer from a juco in Texas.

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    WSU has 5 players signed including 2 - 3star and 3 not rated players including the 7 footer, Bush Wamukota( from Kenya) you mentioned:

    WSU signees…

    By looking at his resume, its does not look like he will be setting the world on fire.

    Bush Wamukota story…

  • I see Marshall sticking it out for at least another 5 in Wichita.

    I don’t think he wants to ramp us his recruiting to become another KU. That isn’t his style and why could he get top recruits to hustle when others’ can’t?

    He goes after players that are carrying a chip… and Marshall has a chip. The players and coach match and they create chemistry from it.

    I don’t know if he would be successful with a different scenario.

  • I think it is as simple as the fact that Self is one of those ardent believers in man defense. He despises zone. It’s the school of thought that zone is somehow a lower life form.

    I just posted this on another thread, but saw this thread and thought it was appropriate.

    Early on, November, I was in complete agreement with Jesse Newell that we should have switched to zone. Right then and there.

    But what makes that hard is that Self is a man coach. My guess is, as good of a coach as he is, he’s probably not that proficient in teaching zone. To have a good zone team, you have to be a good zone coach. I’ve always felt that this is why Baylor struggles. They have not identity. Drew tries to be both. Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing.

    This season, though, with Tharpe and Ellis as defensive black holes, and the length of Embiid and Wiggins, a sweet little 1-3-1 would have done the trick with some half court trap looks.

    I love zone defense because it can allow you to dictate pace, and not be dictated to. You can increase the urgency with different levels of pressure and alternating trapping points. The first Texas Tech game would have never played out that way. And of course, some 2-2-1 3/4 court pressing is the cherry on the top. This is not high risk defense. It’s a well planned strategy to control tempo and take away the other team’s strengths, while playing to your own.

    This was the perfect recipe for this team. But we’ve have banged our head against the wall all season. We’ve seen glimmers. But it’s tourney time and we just gave up 50 in one half of basketball to a team that doesn’t have Dave Sieger, Mookie Blaylock, or Stacey King.

    And @MoonwalkMafia - “We will run into a hot-shooting team in the tournament. Mark it down. It’s going to happen.” Believe me, I have marked it down. Also, your reference to pressing is an excellent one. I am not a proponent of pressing all the time, nor even 50% of the time. But to throw it out there say 1 out of 4 possessions. Change the dynamic, take teams out of their comfort zone. Make them work. And work to expose their weaknesses. Who would have known that Tharpe and Selden would have so much trouble vs. a zone press? We wouldn’t have known unless another team tried.

    While I fear the hot shooting team as well, and Self’s slow trigger in adjusting, I also fear a team attacking us with pressure like Villanova and Florida did. Tharpe can’t handle it, and Selden has been very unreliable in those situations as well (I recall the OSU game at Allen where he was just lost). Mix in some bad ass trapping of our bigs near the block like SDSU did, and that’s the blue print.

    I feel like stupidmichael – I am worried.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Have you considered that maybe some players come to KU because of the man-to-man defense, since the zone, as played in college basketball is not allowed in the NBA?

    Yes, I know that a variation of the zone can be used in the NBA, but with the 3 second limitation, it is not practical and hardly ever used. So a player with future in the NBA would be better served playing for team that plays man-to-man defense such as KU.

    The better zones, such as those played by Syracuse, cannot be learned in few days. it takes lots of practice and coaches intimately familiar with it to properly execute it; there is no way KU can switch to one at this stage of the season even if Coach Self wanted. It is not like KU does not play zone; they do practice several zone variations and have at times used, but they are not proficient at it and quickly revert to the man-to-man.

  • @MoonwalkMafia Re: Marshall. Everything I have read about him and all the interviews he has given leaves one with the impression that him & his family are very happy with their current situation. If he remains here in Wichita, I don’t necessarily think it means that he is afraid or doubts he could be successful at a bigger school with increased expectations. Some people, like coach Self, are built with a sense of competitiveness that emboldens them to always strive to accomplish more. Not just to be the best at what they do, but to be the best at the highest level. To always want to tackle new challenges. It’s why it is often speculated that at some point Self will want to try his hand at the NBA. But there are also people who look at where they’re at, and while they are still also very competitive, aren’t seeking out to prove to themselves or anyone else that they can do something in another (often perceived as more difficult/challenging) situation.

    I do think you are slightly off-base regarding the increased expectations at Wichita St. For example, they made it to the Final 4 last year and returned nearly everybody from that team (minus Carl Hall). Had they floundered and gone to the NIT this year, they would have been very disappointed. Mark Turgeon built that program up and the success has been continued and expanded upon in the Marshall years. I think if he had a few years of not reaching the NCAA tournament in a row, the program would most definitely be inclined to make a coaching switch. Now the expectations are certainly not as high as at a place like KU, but to think that they view their recent success as just icing on the cake is naive. If I were a betting man, I would bet Marshall will be there at least as long as this current core of players is. And considering VanVleet & Baker are sophomores, my guess is he’s there at least for the next two seasons. After that, we’ll see. To me the test for him is what will he do after this year in terms of recruiting. A quick look shows no ESPN top 100 recruits committed to WSU next year (interesting that you brought up VCU as the comparison. They have 3 top 100 commits, including one in the top 50). Will Marshall continue to find diamonds in the rough that he can coach up? Will he go the JuCo route (as a recent article I read on him stated that he liked doing)?

    Re: KU’s defense. It’s obviously no secret Self is a M2M guy. Part of it is a toughness thing. Zones are viewed as soft in his eyes. I agree that with this group, as @HighEliteMajor has stated, it was built for zone. However, regardless of personnel I can’t fathom Self ever playing zone as his primary defense. HEM, you say that you and Jesse thought he should have switched to zone back at the start of the season. So once you start teaching guys to play zone, do you come back next year and try again to teach M2M? If so, that means you lost a lot of opportunities the past year to work on your M2M defense with the returning players. So does one year of playing a lot of zone turn into two? With this group, most certainly, as the reasons for playing zone are the defensive deficiencies of 2 players that will be returning next year - Tharpe & Ellis. And then when they’re gone, all of a sudden you have a young core whom you have neglected to indoctrinate with your most core philosophy, and that is tough M2M defense. Self is not about to get away from who he is, nor should he. You don’t get to be as success as he is by abandoning who you are.

    Now that being said, the question I often ponder on is how feasible is it in any year to teach the team the fair amount of zone principles to be proficient playing it in games? And with such a young core, how feasible was it this year? I’ve never been a basketball coach at any level so I won’t pretend to comprehend what it takes to get players comfortable in a system. Comfortable enough so that they can go out there and just play within the system rather than think. But my guess is it takes awhile, and that especially with a young team, there simply wasn’t enough time for Self to get everyone comfortable with the Self system stuff to expand a great deal into zones, traps, etc.

    And that is something that I think most casual fans have as a misconceptions about zones & presses. It is not just “here, cover this general area”. It is more nuanced than that. Consider the '08 championship team. Loaded with experienced juniors & seniors, many of whom were excellent defenders. Self has joked about how in the championship game he went to a triangle & 2 defense for a few possessions and got torched with it. So if that team wasn’t able to successfully execute a particular zone/junk defense, what shot does a team full of freshman have? Sure it might help you get past a WVU, but you’ve got to be good enough to get by the middling teams with your core defense. Otherwise you have little chance of playing for the highest stakes at the end of the year. And that’s what it’s all about at KU. So given that, I think if you’re Self you keep working on your M2M defense until you are good enough to win with it against most teams. Then you can move on to secondary defensive tactics. And maybe, as HEM has postulated, we need someone who has a fair amount of expertise in that area to be able to teach it.

  • Marshall is 51; that defines everything about what Marshall will do.

    He will go where ever someone will guaranty ten years in college, or 6 years at $4M in the pros, if Stevens were successful with the Celts, which he will be, but not till next year or the year after.

    So: Marshall won’t be jumping straight to the NBA.

    The Koch’s could set Marshall up in Wichita for ten years in a blink. and probably will.

    The question is who else might in the EST?

    South Carolina?

    South Carolina born and raised Marshall is a hero at Winthrop in Rocky Hill, SC, and is well known from assisting John Kresse at CoC.

    Frank Martin circles the drain there. .41 W&L. Suspended for anger outbursts.

    Marshall makes great sense for South Carolina. Give him ten years security and a good contract and he will have South Carolina a basketball power in three seasons and likely a ring in 5 and aged perfectly to dominate the ACC when Roy, Consonants and Boeheim retire over the next five years.

    But does South Carolina have the basketball culture to recognize Marshall’s ten year worth and would there be room for Marshall and Spurrier in that athletic department?

    South Carolina will try hard for Marshall, in hopes of being rid of Frank Martin and icing their basketball future for six years, but the Koch’s will guaranty Marshall ten years and Marshall will stay at WSU.

    South Carolina will regret not signing Marshall for ten.

    Brad Stevens will succeed in the L and Marshall will jump to the NBA after 4 more seasons. 🙂

  • Regarding Self’s preference for M2M: been over this with a fine tooth comb many times and here is the short form. The great coaches do not play zone, because it means opponents always know exactly where your best defenders will be. In turn, your opponents will always play away from your best defenders and play toward their most favorable match ups on the other side of the court. M2M means your defenders are always moving with their man where ever he goes, but a man defense also allows complex switching and hedging and so vastly more help that is unpredictable where and how it will be delivered. Strategically, there is no question that M2M is the best way to go. Next, in terms of energy budget management, it takes less energy to play a m2m intensely than it does a zone intensely. Zones properly played require players to chop their feet constantly and move in unison constantly. This wears down the legs and leaves less energy for the offensive end. And if you’re not going to play intensely it doesn’t much matter what defense you play. Play man to ensure you have more energy for scoring on the offensive end and you can continually surprise the opponent with the types and timing and locations where help comes. Play zone to try to take away the close game and control close rebounding. Play zone to minimize fouling, because your players are never chasing. It takes more skill and athleticism to play m2m, but its strategic and energy budget advantages out weigh the zone, unless your m2m defenders are really lousy rebounders. Next.

  • Zone defense takes less energy to play than man to man. Everybody knows that.

    Zone defense…

  • @JayHawkFanToo

    Hi Backfill Buddy. Its been awhile since you backfilled. So to show good faith, I’m backfilling you, too, for fun. 🙂

    First, using Wikipedia for a serious source on basketball strategy is kind of shakey, don’t you think, unless they are footnoting folks that do know their shizz? Here is who I found footnoted: Jane Woodlands on Net Ball with a dead link. 🙂

    Oh, wait, there was a second reference–an ESPN link to a post game commentary on a Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami link that, you guessed it, doesn’t mention zone being less taxing to play than m2m.

    But, at least you tried, so I will try to.

    I’m feeling generous today.

    I got my initial wake up call rather late in life from an old board rat at the previous site that I decided knew more about basketball than me, or anyone I had ever met, after he had schooled me and many others repeatedly in a friendly, coach-ly sort of way. And he fessed up that he had coached the game a long time. He also became persuasive to me after he would explain what Self had done wrong in attacking this defense, or that defense, and then Self would come back the next meeting with the same team and do exactly what the old board rat said he should have done the first time. His alias was 100. I have no idea if he was really an old coach, or an old sports writer, or the an in the moon. But he was good, kid, the best there ever was on a board that I have read. Probably the best there ever will be on a board since there’s no pay. I’m an entertainer. He was the real deal.

    So don’t feel too stupid, because I used to think zones were easier to play myself, because of the zones I played in kiddie leagues and high school. But, as I said, I got set straight on that few years ago at the other site. Church league zones, and bad high school and bad college zones, most definitely expend almost no energy.

    In fact, some coaches of poorly conditioned teams, or teams with short benches and no ability intent to play sound zone, resort to bad zone defense precisely to rest players. So: to be conciliatory, let me say that your reaction was dead on for bad zones in 6th grade YMCA ball, for one example.

    But D1 zones played as one’s core defense for any length of time require much more energy to play than m2m. Boeheim’s Syracuse zone requires awesome stamina to play. Its easy to understand once you “think” about it and and stop with the reacting to it. 🙂

    All five players in a zone have to move every time the ball moves and they all have to move quite a considerable distance as the ball is whipped around the perimeter as a high and a low post move through its tracking arc looking for seams. Compare this to m2m, where the ball on defender has to move a lot, the one pass a away guys have to move some, and the two pass away guys have to move very little with each dribble, or pass, all the while threatening the passing lanes ball side.

    Back to zone. In order to be ready to move in unison they have to keep their feet moving constantly, which m2m defenders two passes away do not have to do at all, and which m2m defenders one pass away only have to do a little to guard the passing lane.

    There is no rest in a good zone, of the kind you witness routinely even in tenacious Self Defense on the back side, because even when you are back side in a zone, you have to track around with the ball, then you have to be ready for passes into the seams and you have to keep your feet chopping so that you are ready to close on penetrations, not just from one man, but from as many as approach your zone. This becomes especially exhausting when you play a Carolina passing offense/high-lo that Self runs where no ball sticking is a prime directive precisely to keep the zone defenders moving their feet constantly.

    m2m is only exhausting to guard m2m, when an opponent runs a set with lots of long cuts and picks and runs the stuff for 30-35 seconds each possession. But here’s that thing that Self figured outm from the expensive lesson taught him by Shaka Smart. If he gets his guys in as good of condition as a team that tries to do that to him, then his defenders really aren’t working any harder than the offenders in all of this chase the rabbit game, and switching done well can completely tip the energy budget expenditure heavily in KU’s favor. Everyone is quitting the Princeton System because it is, if played well, bad energy budget management on both ends. Energy depleting zone on defense, a bunch of 30-second sets on defense that take more work to run than to guard.

    Back to zone. Another drain is that you are almost always drawn into double teaming that you often don’t have to do in m2m unless you have an acute MUD, and then only with two players, rather than intermittently with all five. The double teaming requires constant foot chopping to be ready to move aggressively in timely fashion.

    And you have to play the zone standing more upright and with hands over head more frequently, in order to prevent cross court passing to weak side; both of which require more, not less effort than a m2m crouch with a hand check.

    Think about Self’s vaunted m2m defense. The scheme is to force the ball handler, and as much action as possible to the center of the floor and into the high paint. There, help can come from all sides and an offender is facing a 6th defender–the 3 second clock. Self Defense differs from many m2m’s that force the action to baseline, thus using the baseline as a 6th defender. But the key is that Self Defense actually greatly reduces the tendency of defenders to have to cover vast amounts of ground. Self Defense is always trying to turn offenders into where defenders already are, so they don’t have to slide far to help. Self Defense tries (and often succeeds) in reducing the effective range of floor to be guarded by funneling action inwards.

    Some of the teams that give Self Ball the most trouble are those that are schemed to flank the Self Defense’s effort to turn the offense inward. Once a ball flanks the Self Defense’s effort to turn it inward, the Self Defense is suddenly under its greatest stress and its defenders are having to slide a long ways and very rapidly to stop the flanking. The best of all possible worlds for Self Defense is for the ball to be turned inward and only one player “runs,” not slides, from back side to “explode out of his position” to not just stop the driver, but leap and block his shot. This is what Jam Tray is so good at doing.

    But the point of the digression is to make clear that only one guys is making a major expenditure of energy in Self’s m2m and he’s making it by running, which is way easier than sliding into position. Self defense allows a lot of running for back side help, rather than sliding. Long, hard sliding is the great burner of calories. This is why Self wants guys chasing offenders over the top of picks, or else switching. He wants the ball to go to the middle of the floor and he doesn’t want his guys wasting all their calories on sliding. Sliding is for steering the offensive player. Running is for catching the turned offensive player.

    But now back to zone.

    Watch zone defenders. They are ALL sliding ALL …THE…TIME, at least if the offense makes an honest attempt to keep the ball from sticking and throws it into the posts in the seams, so as to force the zone defenders to expand, and constract and expand rapidly.

    You have to have lots and lots of depth to play zone defense full time.

    KU could never have survived playing Boeheim grade zone the year KU went to the Finals with a seven man rotation. No way.

    Kentucky couldn’t have prevailed playing a zone full time with its 6 man rotation either.

    Falling back into a zone to conserve energy, or avoid fouls, is perfectly kosher for brief periods, but if you play zone full time and well, it is a heavy energy budget drain.

    To get down to a 7 man rotation, which coaches want to do, because it is typically the optimal way to keep the best players on the floor the most minutes, you almost have to play m2m, even if you have a deep bench that could enable you to play zone.

    Boeheim has always kept the cupboard massively stocked in order to play zone full time and he has done that because he is smack dab in the heart of the most populace state on the eastern seaboard where he can get numbers in his sleep.

    Basketball is a game that rewards thinking about it, rather than reacting to it. 🙂

    Rock Chalk! And…


  • The danger in jumping from a mid major to a larger program is that you may land in a bad situation.

    Alford left New Mexico to go to UCLA. UCLA was a mess. They not only had to get rid of their previous coach, they had to dismiss a couple of players as well. If you were a coach, would you really want to take over that program just to be in the big time?

    Or take a look at some other recent leaps - Anthony Grant was the coach at VCU before Shaka Smart. He went to Alabama where he has had a mix of success and struggles. Perhaps Smart saw what Grant experienced and decided that there was no benefit and jumping from VCU, where he can put together strong teams in his style, to the middle (or bottom) of a major conference at a school like Illinois. Jim Larranaga led mid majors like Bowling Green and George Mason. He’s at Miami now. He has an ACC title, and what will likely be his second NIT appearance coming.

    There’s just not much advantage for most coaches to jump if they are going to end up at a program that wants to win now, but is sitting as the 7th (or 8th or 9th) best program in their conference. Why leave Gonzaga to coach Washington State? Why leave VCU to coach Virginia Tech? Why leave BYU to coach Utah? There’s just no benefit, unless you can implement your program and turn things around in three years or less.

  • @jaybate 1.0 “Marshall makes great sense for South Carolina. Give him ten years security and a good contract and he will have South Carolina a basketball power in three seasons and likely a ring in 5 and aged perfectly to dominate the ACC when Roy, Consonants and Boeheim retire over the next five years.”

    You really think South Carolina would dominate the ACC? Wouldn’t that be rather difficult when the only ACC team they usually play is Clemson? (beer)

  • I think Marshall should hold on to the Wichita State job until we have a five round bout between KU and WSU.

  • Turbo scrolling wheel on a mouse are a wonderful thing.

  • @brooksmd

    PHOF. I have been picked off first!

    Totally switched the Cocks!

    Oh well.

    Gotta get the aricept out!

  • @JayHawkFan

    Wikipedia footnotes.

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