Jack of all trades: Inside the Louisville defense

All bad defenses are alike; each great defense is great in its own way. Florida State uses brute force to take away the interior and force the worst shot in basketball – the long two. Cincinnati sends two defenders flying at every ballhandler. Syracuse has their zone. Ohio State shortens the game by forcing turnovers and not allowing offensive rebounds. And Louisville? What do they do? Well, nothing. And everything.

The Cardinals have the best defense in college hoops. They’re allowing a strength adjusted 0.84 points per possession, which is the lowest figure since Memphis in 2009. Florida is the only team in the month of March to score more than a point per possession against Louisville.

So how do they do it? The short answer is that they’re really good at a lot of little things. The long answer requires visuals. For that we go to the video.

Louisville mixes man-to-man defense with a couple different zones. They have a few different ways of handling screens. To be multiple like this on defense requires excellent communication, which the Cardinals have. Here, the three backline defenders (circled) are passing information down the line about Draymond Green cutting baseline.


Later in the play Gorgui Dieng (circled, right) is once again directing traffic within the Louisville zone as Michigan State attempts to flood it. Russ Smith (circled, left) identifies what is happening behind him, and so he knows to drop down behind his man – Adreian Payne – because now that the Spartans are clearing traffic it appears that they are going to dribble drive. Smith being behind his man ensures that Payne won’t follow the driver down the lane.


Now that the Michigan State players have made room, Keith Appling (green arrow) makes his move. But Louisville’s help defense is ready. As Wayne Blackshear (blue arrow, bottom) follows his man as he rotates, he cuts inside enough to disrupt the ballhandler. And Gorgui Dieng (blue arrow, top) is in perfect position to come over the top.


The video:



The next play should be a transition opportunity for the Spartans. But the Louisville defenders (arrows) rarely get beat down the court. They also harass the ballhandler, regardless of what else is happening on the court, whenever they’re dribbling. Here, Gorgui Dieng (circled) is doing just that, which leads to good things.


The video:



This time in a matchup zone Jared Swopshire (circled, left) is directing traffic. Gorgui Dieng (blue arrow) is monitoring Adreian Payne, as in a matchup zone the Louisville defense doesn’t want him to end up down low on a smaller man. Michigan State is sending a cutter baseline and a cutter on a curl (green arrow).


Now Draymond Green (circled) cuts to the middle, but Louisville’s matchup zone means that Swopshire follows him, rather than having Dieng take over.


Seeing that their set is breaking down, the Spartans kick it to the wing for Travis Trice to drive baseline (circled right, and green arrow). Adreian Payne (circled left) attempts to seal Gorgui Dieng to the high side.


But at this point in his career, Dieng is a well-coached sophomore, and he is able to spin around Payne (circled) and cut off the drive.


Finally, the Spartans go to their late clock bailout play – a screen (circled) and clearout for Draymond Green (green arrow). Louisville’s defense (blue arrows) is ready.

The video:



Louisville also does a great job pressuring the ball in the backcourt. This often isn’t designed to generate steals, but rather to force the offense into uncomfortable sets. Here, the shot clock (circled) is already down to :26 seconds and Florida is still 45′ from the basket.


As the Gators initiate their offense, the ball goes in and out of the left wing. Florida tries to free Kenny Boynton to curl around a screen, but Louisville’s guards – in this case, Kyle Kuric (circled) – are aggressive going through screens rather than behind them. Being able to consistently do this takes pressure off of the Cardinals bigs because they aren’t required to hedge and hold.


With the shot clock (arrow) winding down, Bradley Beal (circled) thinks that he’s cleared a screen, but the Louisville defender is there. He ends up dropping the ball to his right, but UF doesn’t have the time to find a good shot.


The video:



Finally, in transition this is a tough team to score on. Not only do they get back, as noted above (and here with four players in position to Florida’s three), but they’re smart and properly positioned. Florida is dumping it down (circled, with arrow) to Patric Young who is expecting to catch and finish through contact. But Peyton Siva (circled, left) has not only beaten the offense down the court, but has his shoulders turned which enable him to easily step in front of Young and establish position.


The video: