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I remembered the basics of the pack line defense when I was starting to put this column together on my mind Monday night while driving home from the Cyclone Fanatic Radio Show. I could remember some of the principles from my freshman season at Simpson when we ran the pack line (although, I’ll admit, not very well).
I knew enough to write a pretty solid column for you guys but I needed to know more. I couldn’t quench my thirst for knowledge of the defensive scheme Dick Bennett developed and his son now hangs his hat on. I had to make a call.
That call was to Simpson assistant men’s basketball coach Brandon Stromer. He’s the guy that recruited me to play for the Storm, is a basketball mind I respect a lot and is a big-time believer in the pack line defense (which, I should probably add, Simpson now plays much better).
He gave me the 10-minute crash course I needed to bring you the first of a two part film room column on the Virginia Cavaliers. Tomorrow I’ll have a full break down of one of the nation’s most efficient offenses and the personnel that make it go.
Today is all about defense.
The first thing to know about the pack line is that it is an imaginary arc two feet inside the 3-point line. The second thing to know is that in pack line defense there is almost always going to be intense on-ball pressure. The on-ball defender is going to be expected to always keep his man in front of him.
The other four defenders will have two feet inside the pack line at all times. Unlike defenses that might deny one pass away, these guys are going to play back in the gaps with the goals of crowding the middle, limiting dribble drives and protecting the paint.
The beautfiul red line I crafted for you is the pack line. The defense will shift as passes are made around the perimeter with players closing out with high hands from the gaps on the pass while the player that was applying ball pressure falls back inside the pack line. This makes the defense into an amoeba of sorts and it has been referred to as a “sagging man-to-man” from time to time.
Watch in that clip as the ball is passed and the on-ball defenders fall back inside the pack line then the guy playing the gap closes out hard. There aren’t many driving lanes for North Carolina to work before they enter it into the post.
Once the ball is in the post, the pack line’s main objective becomes getting it back out. In this situation, they bring a double-team immediately when the post touches the ball. I saw in other situations that they’ll bring the double after the post player puts the ball on the floor.
Boom, you see four guys inside the pack line and one guy applying ball pressure.
Once the ball is in the post, all five guys are inside the pack line with one eye on the ball and one eye on their man. The defender in the middle of the lane has the most important job in this situation. He can’t allow that post player to get his body to another imaginary line in the middle of the lane called the mid-line.
As soon as the post player puts the ball on the floor the defender in the middle of the lane is in his grill trying to get him to pass it back out. The only issue for the fretting post player is all the defenders have hugged up on their men in denial after the post player picked up his dribble.
That’s another one of the basic principles of the pack line, anytime a player picks up his dribble it is full-out pandemonium and all-out denial off the ball and up in your shorts on the ball. That play culminated in a Miami travel and that happens a lot against Virginia.
This is a defense that, like West Virginia’s press or most other really good defenses, is meant to speed you up and get you doing things you don’t usually do. It’s meant to force bad shots and make you think bad shots are good shots.
That means beating it comes down to running good, efficient offense instead of forcing up one pass 3-pointers or long twos in transition. The best thing to do against Virginia is to slow yourself down, get into your set and move the ball fast around the perimeter making their defense shift.
Forcing the defense to shift will hopefully get the defense into scramble situations which can open driving lanes, give space for shots and open things up in the middle.
In that clip, North Carolina uses good, quick ball movement to get the ball in the post, and instead of panicking with the ball, the post player takes his time, allows the double to come and then makes a slick pass across the lane for a dunk.
Those are the kinds of plays I can imagine Georges Niang making against this Virginia defense.
The last thing I’ll mention about the pack line is the defenders on ball screens are going to hedge very hard. When I say very hard, I mean it.
Hedging high can sometimes lead to trouble for the ‘Hoos like it did in that clip before the Miami guard panicked and threw the ball away. It’s obvious to see that the two defenders run into each other. It can happen a lot with that high hedge.
I think that’s going to open up some really interesting pick and pop situations with Georges Niang and Monte Morris. The hedging defender is going to be forced to recover really fast in order to get back to the screener. If you add in the fact that the screener is the craftiest player in college basketball, that task just gets a little more difficult, because like I said earlier, guys can’t get beat off the dribble.
Once you get beat off the dribble your buddies are going to get sucked into the middle of the lane leaving open the driving lanes and shooters. If only Iowa State had a guy that was adept at getting into the middle, taking his time and then making good passes to other capable offensive players.
Oh, wait a second.