Blogger Spotlight: Hoops fundamentals with The Mikan Drill

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Words sometimes just aren’t enough for college hoops. Sure, you read everything out there, but sometimes you need a play detailed down to every pass, dribble and motion.

That’s where The Mikan Drill comes in.

Josh Riddell’s blog breaks down the game through embedded videos and photos and always turns up an insight or two. It’s fantastic for people like me who are always chasing down just how a team pulled off a play or a win and is perfect for fans who just want to learn more about the game.

So how’s he do it? Glad you asked. I did in the latest Blogger Spotlight

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Q: OK, I gotta start with the name. Are you a DePaul student or grad, or was George Mikan simply one of the first to use video replay breakdowns? I doubt his were as detailed as yours though …

A: I set out to start a full time blog before the 2010-11 season and I did not really have a purpose or subject I felt passionate about. The initial name of my blog was The Legend of Randolph Childress, as seen in the blog url.I am actually a Wake Forest graduate and set out to write mainly about Wake Forest. It was the off-season, so news was slow and it was still too early to write a season preview yet.

I decided to pull up the NCAA Vault and subject myself to watching one of Wake’s recent tournament losses, their 2004 Sweet Sixteen loss to St. Joe’s. I wanted to write how Wake Forest failed to get the ball to Eric Williams in the second half, which is part of the reason they lost. Instead of just writing that, I wanted to show readers, so I came up with this post, which is admittedly bad.

I realized that there was not really any blog out there that showed this kind of analysis on a nightly basis. I always liked reading game recaps and analysis but I always felt a desire to be shown what the author was saying instead of just taking it at face value. I wanted the blog to be about the fundamentals of basketball and why plays did or did not work. In my mind, it doesn’t get any more fundamental than the Mikan Drill, which is where I got the name.

Q: As hoops sites go, yours is invaluable. The essential breakdowns of offense and set plays through video and pictures is fantastic. What’s your feedback been like? Do you have any metrics about your audience?

A: The site does fairly well. I think one of the reasons that there wasn’t a blog like mine before was that people were not really interested in reading about the X’s and O’s, especially if it wasn’t about a team they like or a game they saw. My mission is to change that and get people thinking more critically about the game as they watch it. Like you said, it’s one thing to describe a play, it’s another thing to let the reader see what you are talking about. If I can show something about a team (like how the defend the pick and roll one game), I hope readers can take that info and see how it stayed the same or changed to the next game.

Q: I’d guess the pop you got during last year’s NCAA tournament from Luke Winn’s blog must’ve helped too. What’s the site’s future hold? What’s the ideal situation for you?

A:  I’m not really sure what the future holds. I did a couple projects that helped the readership (Winn’s tourney blog, KenPom’s coaching resume database) and have a few freelance opportunities for this season for some cool new sites, so you will see my work a few different places. I also have some new ideas for my own site this year and hope to be able to continue to provide nightly coverage of the X’s and O’s of college basketball.

Q: Give me a hint to the new ideas. C’mon, just a teaser.

A: Ha ha, I wasn’t trying to hide anything from you. I just am not sure I will be able to get all the video I want to make the posts happen. I don’t have access to Synergy Sport Technology, so it can be difficult to find tape sometimes.

The main thing I want to focus on this year is a bigger picture view of teams and players and how they play from game to game. Last year I focused on things that happened in a single game, while this year I hope to show how teams are changing (or not changing) from game to game. I will still be posting on what happens in single games, such as set plays/inbounds plays/end of game situations, etc but I hope to move beyond that and show how teams are changing or how they are staying the same. It does depend on the video I can get, which is why I can’t make promises at this point.

Q: Any conferences you tend to focus on more? Or is simply what interests you and what’s available?

A: I would say the conferences I focused on the most last season were the Big East and the ACC, mainly because they are on ESPN the most. However, I do like to cover all conferences so you will see plenty of mid-major and low-major focus this season. On a Saturday when there are 5 games broadcast at one time, I usually try to pick one game and watch it closely, instead of having 4 games that I am all paying partial attention to at the same time. While this lead me toward major conferences more, I do try to make time for the smaller conferences and try to focus on the teams near the top of these conferences that I think will make the NCAA tournament. Hopefully this will give readers a sense of how they actually play, so they can get a look at the team outside of just their stats.

From there, I try to find games that I didn’t watch that had close finishes and watch the last 5 minutes to see how the final possessions went. This often leads to some good material, as we can see what teams are made of in crunch time.

 Q: When you review players and teams, what stands out the most? Do you try to review video with an idea of what you’re looking for or do things usually just present themselves?

A: I sometimes have an idea of what I want to watch for going into a game but I often just watch and see how the games play out. I did a few posts on Texas A&M and FSU this past month, so I ended up watching their tournament game around 5 times (it didn’t get any prettier on offense by the 5th watching). Last year during the season, I usually went in with no idea of what I was going to write on and just let the game come to me. For example, for this post about the Pitt – Notre Dame game, we saw Pitt struggle down the stretch with ND’s pick and roll. One of the topics I like to post on is plays that had an impact on the game, which we may not know until the end of the game, such as these pick and roll plays.

Q: Five times? How much time do you typically spend on a post?

A: That was a bit of an outlier. For my offseason posts this summer, I usually watch 3-4 games two times each. So for the Khyle Marshall scouting report, I watched the UConn, VCU, Florida and Wisconsin game. I think I watched the Wisconsin and VCU game once and the UConn and Florida game twice. During the season, I try to get post up the night of the game or early morning the day after, so I usually don’t watch those games more than once.

Q: It’s that time of year where everyone makes predictions. Give me a national title pick, a sleeper team and the player you love to watch.

A: I feel that with the strength of college basketball this season, the NCAA tournament is going to be insanely tough to win, which is why it is insanely tough for me to pick a team that will win 6 (or 7) games in a row. That said, it is hard to pick against UNC, as much as it pains me to say it as a Wake grad. They have all the components of a national title contender: a strong point guard in Kendall Marshall, a great defense (#6 in defensive efficiency last season), solid rebounders in Tyler Zeller and John Henson and star in Harrison Barnes.

I want to pick FSU as my sleeper team but I do not want to make this too ACC-centric so I will choose Creighton. Each year, a mid-major team makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament and Creighton is the logical preseason pick for that mid major team this year. I think they will be in the top 25 almost all season and will surprise some people come March. Doug McDermott is a great player and one I hope to check out several times this season.

The most interesting story for me going into the first month of the season is what style Mark Turgeon will play at Maryland and how that will affect the team, especially Terrell Stoglin. The ACC is wide open after UNC, Duke and FSU and any number of teams could emerge from that pack. The loss of Pe’shon Howard is big and Maryland still has to rely on getting Alex Len eligible but Maryland could be one of those teams depending on how Turgeon coaches the team. I have talked at length at how Turgeon’s slow pace may affect Terrell Stoglin so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out. Turgeon already puts an emphasis on defensive rebounding, so a lack of a big man may not hurt them that much, at least in that sense. Combine this with the lack of depth that Maryland has and it is looking more and more like Turgeon will have Maryland playing at a slow pace. The question is, will Stoglin regress from his freshman year or will he learn to thrive in a half-court offense?

I could go on and on about players I love to watch: Jae Crowder, Travis McKie or Aaron Craft but if I had to pick one player to watch, based on his fundamentals, it would have to be Ashton Gibbs. He amazes me how he can run his defenders off screens and get open despite his average speed, height and athleticism. He is the perfect example of how to use screens to your advantage to create space. He is such a joy to watch.

You can read more of Josh’s work at The Mikan Drill and follow him on Twitter @TheMikanDrill.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.