Attacking the pack-line defense

This is Tony Bennett's fourth season coaching in the ACC. In that time he's beaten 8 conference teams at least twice. But there are two teams he's never beaten: Duke and Florida State. It's not hard to argue that Bennett, Coach K, and Coach Hamilton are the three best defensive minds in the league, so it has to be a bit of a sore spot that Bennett is 0-9 against the other two.

Today he gets his 5th shot at Florida State.

What makes his defense so good? Last year the defense was 6th nationally in defensive efficiency, and this year they are 18th. They do it without forcing many turnovers. Rather, they use a defense assembled by Bennett's father to pressure every shot. Teams are making fewer than 40% of their 2s vs Virginia, which is the 5th lowest mark nationally.

The pack-line defense – the name was coined by someone wanting to sell DVDs – is a variation of pressure, man-to-man defense. While there are a high number of defensive switches, just like in Krzyzewski's and Hamilton's defenses, this defense looks a bit different.

Here, Old Dominion works for a shot. The ball is on the left wing (circle) and Aaron Bacote (dashed line) is going to run a long curl, getting three screens (arrows) along the way. As the threat gets closer to the basket, note how Virginia's entire team sags that way. The "pack-line" is an imaginary line one large step in from the 3-point line, and that is generally where the defense is compacted with the exception of someone pressuring the ball.

Bacote (circle) gets the ball on the wing but doesn't have the space to launch a three. Instead, he drives middle (dashed line). Technically, Paul Jesperson (arrow) is guarding No. 25, but Virginia switches constantly.

Driving middle is exactly what Virginia wants you to do. There they can contain the ball handler (circle). Here, all five defenders have at least one foot in the paint, and Jesperson has abandoned his man to pick up the dribble. The Hoos do this on all dribble penetration – they try and force it to the middle, and then they pinch it with help defense.

But ODU has a way out. They immediately reverse the ball two passes, and whenever this happens, look for the ball to go right back where it came from. The ODU defender (blue line) is able to pick off Bacote's man, and the pass (dotted arrow) is delivered on time and in rhythm for the three.

The video:

Later, ODU runs a inbounds play which is an excellent demonstration of how to beat this defense. The pack-line is all about stopping the gaps, so one way to attack it is to figure out a way to remove the gaps. This play begins with a skip pass (dotted arrow) to Donte Hill, who is excellent off the dribble.

Hill dribbles right (arrow) while getting a screen set to that side (circle). The other ODU players are fade to that side of the court as well, which should be the tip for UVA. But the on-ball defenders have their backs to that part of the court and can't see the huge space that's been opened for the drive.

He doesn't convert, but he does demonstrate how to get to the basket against a team which is almost impossible to get to the basket against.

The video: