Final Four Previews: Anthony Davis and defending the pick and roll

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Last week, in preparation for Kentucky’s Sweet 16 matchup against Indiana, we took a look at Anthony Davis and how Indiana could go about getting him in foul trouble.

It worked for the Hoosiers, as Cody Zeller drew a foul on Davis in the first 30 seconds of the game while Victor Oladipo was able to draw the second foul on the National Player of the Year just six minutes into the game. Davis was sent to the bench … where his teammates proceeded to score 50 points and take the lead into the break. Even when Davis picked up four fouls against Baylor, it was a bruised knee that had more of an effect keeping him out of the game.

In other words, you can try to force Davis out of the game by getting him in foul trouble, but it’s a fruitless effort. He has fouled out just once this season. The Baylor game was the first time he had picked up four fouls since December 10th. Between Dec. 10th and March 25th — a span of 29 games — Davis had only picked up three fouls four times.

In other words, attacking Davis to try to get him in foul trouble has a) been ineffective, as he’s proven more than capable of avoiding fouls throughout the season, and b) likely been the reason that he is averaging 4.6 bpg. Throw in the fact that Davis will, in all likelihood, be matched up with Gorgui Dieng, who is just as lanky and long as Davis, and Louisville is going to need a different strategy to try and reduce the effect Davis has on the game.

One thing Indiana did was to increase the tempo. Their goal was, in part, to try and run the floor and get into their offense before Davis was able to establish himself in the paint. It worked, as the Hoosiers were able to put up 90 points on Kentucky. The problem? The Wildcats are just as dangerous in the full court. That’s why Indiana still lost by 12 points.

The other answer is to try and draw Davis away from the rim. Since Dieng isn’t exactly a 3-point shooter, the best way to do that is to engage him in the pick-and-roll, which is something that Louisville excels at. We have already gone through what Louisville does on their ball screens here, so let’s take a look at how to use those screens to take Davis out of the paint.

The last two games, what Kentucky has done against a ball-screen — whether it was Davis or Terrence Jones that was defending — is they’ve had the big man hedge and recover. In the first example, as Pierre Jackson comes off of the high-ball screen, Davis will hedge out to keep Jackson from getting a free lane to the rim while Marquis Teague goes over the ball-screen set by Perry Jones III:

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As Teague is able to get back to Jackson fairly quickly, Davis is able to match back up with Jones on the roll:

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Where is gets interesting, however, is when ball-screens are set at a slightly different angle. In this example, you’ll see Cody Zeller setting a high ball-screen for Victor Oladipo. The difference? Look at Zeller’s shoulders. His are parallel to the baseline, where in the previous example Jones’ shoulders where parallel to the sideline:

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This allows Oladipo to rub off Lamb on the screen, and since Davis is not hedging hard and forcing Oladipo to change direction, Indiana ends up with the advantage. Oladipo essentially gets a one-on-one with Davis with a running start 18 feet from the rim:

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He ended up getting a layup.

As you’ll see in the first two examples in this post, that is how Louisville runs their ball-screens as well. Davis may be the defensive player of the year, but he is not going to stay in front of Siva on the perimeter. Getting Siva in a situation where he can attack Davis off the bounce would be ideal. He may not score, but look at the last screencap above. Not only is Christian Watford open on the baseline on a backdoor cut, but Will Sheehy is open on the opposite wing for a three.

If the Cardinals want to pull of this upset, it is a situation they are going to have to take advantage of.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.