March 3, 2009

UW post play instrumental for success

MADISON, Wis. - It does not take the same level of comprehension that certain other things in life require. It is not rocket science, brain surgery or developing a plan to fix the economy, by any means.

But it is the fundamental principle for Wisconsin men's basketball coach Bo Ryan and his swing offense. In order for the team to function at its highest level, the ball has to touch the post.

When the ball is dropped down low, it opens many avenues for the rest of the Badger players to get a good look at the rim. In the swing, an offense predicated on patience and ball movement, looks are eventually going to free up later in the possession if the ball has a presence in the paint.

Once in there, it is up to the man on the block to find his teammates, especially if the other team is sending an extra defender at the post-man, if no scoring chance exists.

"You can really hurt the opposition by doing that," UW sophomore Jon Leuer said. "When they come and double, having all four guys move and having shooters like J-Bo (Jason Bohannon) spotting up outside, you can really pick them apart if you're effective passing out of the post."

Sensing the double team

In Wisconsin's most recent game, a victory over Michigan, the Badgers top post player Marcus Landry exposed the Wolverine defenders throughout with his passing ability. In the second half, anytime Landry touched the ball down low Michigan would immediately send a double team.

By the end of the game, Landry had recognized that fact and dished five assists without committing a turnover in UW's 60-55 win.

"It's something that you got to get used to and it's something that you've really got to be prepared for," Landry, who leads UW in scoring with 12.7 points per game, said. "They (Michigan) weren't doubling me at first, but down the stretch they started to double team.

"For me, once I turn around and I face up and I see the other defender, I'm pretty sure I'm probably getting double teamed for the remainder of the game. So I look out for it more than ever."

But that instinct in the paint does not come easily. Landry, a senior and veteran post player has been in the program for plenty of years. As a freshmen, or even sophomore, it would be fair to say he did not have that sense as well as he does now.

It can also be understood that younger post players like Leuer and Keaton Nankivil will have a better sense of the double team later in their careers in comparison to now.

Before one can develop that sense and truly become an effective post player, the wherewithal and capacity to compete and learn on the block is needed. With that comes an understanding of how the post game truly functions.

"It definitely takes some grit and some determination," UW assistant coach Howard Moore said. "You got to be willing to bump and grind a little bit."

Joe Krabbenhoft, a veteran swing man well versed in post play has the bruises and scars that show the true physicality of a player who positions himself on the block.

"What makes a good post player? Just being tough and not willing to back down from physical contact," Krabbenhoft said. "Being real physical, enjoying contact, embracing it and giving it out in a nice way, I guess."

Delivering the ball to the post.

On the forefront, the process looks simple. A man on the perimeter, usually a guard, will drop a pass into his teammate who has leverage over his defender on the block. Once the ball is received, that player can look to score or pass back out.

But the process, as one could guess, is a bit more complex than that mostly because there are a number of other players on the court that are doing their best to prevent the ball from getting that close to the rim.

"It starts long before you get the ball in the post," Leuer, who is averaging 9.2 points per game, said. "A lot of it comes from working for position. That comes more from your hips and your lower body and having a strong base.

"We always talk about ducking in on guys and getting wide. That's just taking your leg and just trying to drive someone out. That's the best way to post up and the best way to get the ball. Once you get the ball there, that's a high percentage shot."

As a guard on a team so focused on touching the post, Trevon Hughes has to work hard to make sure he distributes into the lane, too. Just as his post players are working hard to establish position closer to the rim.

"(I) see how he's guarded," Hughes, who leads the team with nearly three assists per game, said. "What shoulder the defenders on. You got to know his surroundings at the same time. He could be fronted, so you can go with the over the top pass, but you got to know who's on the opposite box that can intercept that pass.

"So the hard work is getting it into the post, and the easy work is cutting away from it. You might get a give and go."

Guarding the post

Defending the post is even harder. By playing in the Big Ten, a conference notoriously known for its physicality, anyone facing a post player will likely be battered and bruised by the end.

"It's so tough," Landry, who has guarded every opponent's big man this season, said. "You got to have great balance, great feet and have that drive to get around your man."

But banging on the low block for the majority of the game wears on each individual. Take into account that the players are running upwards of 90 feet, one way, up and down the court, and then exerting energy on the defensive side to protect his man from scoring, and one generates a greater respect for the stamina needed.

"It's a lot of work," Leuer said. "Especially defensively trying to keep the ball out of the post. You're constantly guessing on which way they're going and you have to always stay in front of them.

"We don't want the ball ever to get in the post, because like I said, it's a high percentage shot for the other team too."

Remaining composed while defending the post is of the utmost importance as well. Many times, when physicality reigns supreme on the interior, players can become lazy and try to outmuscle a player.

When that happens, a foul is usually called because the offensive player gains the advantage and the defensive man panics.

"It's hard," Moore said. "You got to be disciplined and that's why we always teach showing the hands. You're going to engage somebody physically, so if you put your hands on them, you got to get them off quick. Just keep moving your feet, because you got to be able to circle around the post and get around."

UW success in the post this season

Historically, the Badgers have had their fair share of prototypical big men that dominate the post. Most recently, Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma, two critical components to last season's Big Ten championship squad, come to mine.

Both those players stood seven feet tall, something this season's team does not have the luxury of, at least in its regular rotation. Needless to say, with the emergence of Leuer and the impressive, consistent play of Landry for his size, there has not been a huge drop off of interior production.

Leuer and Landry as well as Nankivil, average more than one-third of UW's total scoring on the season.

"He's (Landry) been down there his whole career so it's not like anything new," Moore said. "He's probably got more space without those other big bodies out there. He's got more space to operate, especially when he's out there with Jon.

"Jon's got the ability to play from the perimeter a lot more and drive. But Marcus has done a good job for us there."







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