Skip to content

Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

Kentucky Can’t Keep Switching Ball Screens

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

John Calipari is set in his ways on a few things.  He despises playing zone defense, he doesn’t run set inbounds plays to score and he prefers to switch on ball screens.  We can no longer accept the latter.

In a perfect world, you switch every screen because that’s the easiest way to play defense, but you must have elite defenders for it to be successful.  Calipari’s been blessed to have exceptional athletes in the post that can step out and defend on the perimeter.

Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year, could do it.  Willie Cauley-Stein could do it in his sophomore season and during his First Team All-American junior campaign.  This is what happens when Bam Adebayo defends on the perimeter.

Bam got embarrassed, but it’s not his fault.  He’s doing what he’s told.  Even though Kentucky’s comeback effort was valiant, it was not enough to erase the six-point deficit with 1:45 to play.

Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time is one big reason why Kentucky lost at Louisville.  Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time could have, and probably should have, kept Kentucky from winning at Vanderbilt Tuesday night.

Down four, it was any easy call for Bryce Drew: give the ball to a shooter and use whoever Adebayo’s defending for a pick-and-roll.  A 55 percent three-point shooter got an open attempt, but at least it wasn’t as embarrassing as what happened at Louisville.


Kentucky is lucky LaChance is not as good as Quentin Snider.  The problem is that neither are that good.  However, Joel Berry is.  Trailing by five with under four minutes to play, ‘Ol Roy drew up the same play and you’ll never believe what happened.

Berry’s three started a 10-2 run, giving the Tar Heels a three-point lead with 1:20 to play.  Luckily, the team was bailed out by Malik Monk’s unbelievable 47-point performance.

During last night’s call-in show, John Calipari reflected on the win at Vanderbilt.   “You learn what you did well that worked, and you learn some things you better not repeat.”  Switching every ball screen should not be repeated.

There are two simple solutions:

1. Hedge and Rotate

Because very few post players can defend guards on the perimeter, this is the preferred method at every level of basketball.  When Kansas comes to town in two weeks, you will not see Landen Lucas guarding De’Aaron Fox on the perimeter.

The principle requires team defense and knowledge of personnel.  Let’s use the UK-Vandy matchup as an example.  Here’s what happened in the game, as so eloquently illustrated by Drew Franklin.


If UK hedged, Bam Adebayo would step up and show hard to take away the three, and Fox would fight over top of the screen because LaChance is a 55 percent three-point shooter.  (Against a non-shooter, Bam’s hedge would be more horizontal instead of vertical, taking away penetration.  Fox would then slide beneath the ball screen and slow down the screener’s cut to the basket before returning to his man.)

In the scenario above, Derek Willis would slide over to take away the pass to Kornet, leaving Briscoe responsible for the two shooters away from the ball.  Facing pressure from Adebayo and Fox, LaChance’s chances of passing to either of Briscoe’s opponents is slim to none.

Instead, Bam was put on an island and LaChance only needed to make a subtle move to get Adebayo on his heels.

2. Trap

Trapping ball screens is ideal under certain circumstances, once again, depending on personnel.  UK’s personnel favors the trap more times than not.  The best asset UK’s perimeter defenders have is quick hands.  Fox, Monk and Briscoe average a combined four steals a game.

Using the same scenario, Kentucky’s guards are better at on-ball pressure than Riley LaChance is at dribbling through a double-team.  Anticipating the pick-and-roll, Bam and Fox would jump it immediately, forcing LaChance to attempt to either split the double team or pick up his dribble, likely resulting in a turnover, or even better, a run-out for two easy points and a six-point lead.

Instead, LaChance knocked down a three to turn it into a one-point game.  Luckily, the Cats got a dunk by Fox and four clutch free throws down the stretch from Monk to ice the game.

Switching has worked well throughout Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, but it’s pretty clear it will not work this year.

Kentucky has only had four games decided by ten points or less.  Down the stretch in three of those games, Bam Adebayo was defending a guard on an island, resulting in points for the opponent.  Kentucky’s elite scoring guards bailed them out to win two of those three games.

As long as Kentucky continues to switch ball screens, opponents will use pick-and-rolls with whoever Adebayo is defending to get an open shot in the closing minutes.  By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, Kentucky can’t afford to exclusively rely on the guards’ scoring ability down the stretch.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

19 Comments for Kentucky Can’t Keep Switching Ball Screens

  1. a21CATSfan
    9:17 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    Kentucky also can’t keep fouling 90 feet away from the basket. Especially Bam and Wenyen.

  2. Boochy
    9:26 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    Nick is 100% correct on this. Switching causes too many mismatches which allows opponents to score more easily. I’ve never understood why Cal practically refuses to play zone. Your best coaches play according to their opponents weaknesses and their strengths. If a team struggles hitting jump shots but has great interior players, why not play more zone to take away their interior strengths and vice versa?

  3. unbridled
    9:30 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    I agree 100% and to continue doing something that obviously does not work drives me insane! But I’m not John Calipari and in Cal I trust.

  4. BTownUKFan
    9:32 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    All these coaching ‘experts’ trying to solve a problem that is not there. Vandy averages 13 made 3 pointers per game and shoots close to 40%. Kentucky held them to 8 of 29 which is just over 27%. I think the defense worked just fine. Teams are going to get lots of opportunities to score because Kentucky pushes the pace of the game which leads to more possessions FOR EVERYONE.

  5. catsfan27
    9:34 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    I understand we all think that we know what would be best, but at the end of the day Calipari is in the HOF for a reason. There is a method to the madness. Who’s to say that on the hedge, Bam wouldn’t get called for that silly hedge call refs always call. It is all here say. Again, at the end of the day, the game ended in victory for the Wildcats, as it did in the NC game as well.

  6. shelby
    9:37 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    I’m no coach, but I’ve always preferred going over the screen on a shooter and going under if he’s not an outside threat. Kidney presented a rare threat by being 3 point shooting center.

  7. shelby
    9:38 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    I meant “kornett” not “kidney”; stupid auto correct.

  8. Jiminy Crickets
    9:39 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    pull up the wisconsin game and see how often Ulis was guarding Frank The Tank. It will make you sick.

    • Nick Roush
      9:55 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

      I really don’t want to, because I never want to watch that abomination again, but now I’m intrigued.

  9. shanetrain181
    9:41 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    This is my number 1 pet peeve in Cal’s coaching style. It allows the other team to determine where our big guys play on defense. At least mix it up a bit, hedge one time, trap the next, switch the next. And with this team’s quickness, trapping more as a general rule would make a lot of sense.

    • RexRox
      10:43 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

      Virtually my ONLY pet peeve. I absolutely trust in Cal, but this feels like a chink in the armor.

  10. Kat4Life
    9:52 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    ….Cal knows the BBN will offer free advice (like it or not) on just about anything we pick up……which is quite a bit if you guys are like me, and I sense you are…….all good points, can’t argue with any of them……

  11. E Cat
    9:59 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    I’m with Shelby. Would prefer our guards just went over or under screens when Bam or Derek’s man sets a screen. Wisconsin (15) and UConn (14) really worked us on those high screens in the Final Fours.

    Worked perfect when we had AD and MKG … and even Willie to an extent. Don’t have that personnel this year.

    A solution could be to switch on all screens except if it’s Bam or Derek’s player is setting the screen.

    All said, we have deficiencies on D, but still believe potential to improve.

  12. Ridge Runner
    11:14 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    Great insight and feedback if Cal is open to reading it or hearing about it.

  13. Luether
    11:22 pm January 12, 2017 Permalink

    Just more smoke and mirror BS and CS from Cal…

  14. Angelo
    2:02 am January 13, 2017 Permalink

    Great post! Interesting comments! Cal is a genius! And stubborn… And headstrong…

  15. Aar
    8:17 am January 13, 2017 Permalink

    Adebayo is doing something that’s really hard and new to him. He’s improving – better at staying in front now, needs to guard closer on ball while staying in front. Only with consistent coaching on a consistent style of play will he get where we all want him to get by the post season. This team and each play are way better in January than they were in November and they will get better by March.

    Changing the style of defense mid-stream will only set back Adebayo’s and the entire team’s defense. I trust the HOF coach’s judgement and his style of coaching.

  16. WatchutalkinboutWillis
    8:48 am January 13, 2017 Permalink

    Overall I would say this is the best post I have ever read from Nick Roush. And I totally agree that this has been killing us. HOWEVER, Cal is a coach that does what is best for the player first and expects the players to do what is best for their teammates. It would be best for Bam to figure this out because he certainly has the length and athleticsm to succeed at guarding the perimeter from time to time. So Cal will continue to push this because it is what is best for Bam in the long term.

  17. Jordon
    8:51 am January 13, 2017 Permalink

    I never really caught this defensive style out of Cal until the 38-0 season (did they play after they beat Notre Dame in that thriller…I don’t recall). That year, and the year of AD, MKG, ect, it was easier to employ this tactic because Towns, WCS, Lyles, Davis, etc. were lanky and athletic and could stay with most guards and at least effect their shot with their footwork and length.

    Bam can’t do that. He is much more a traditional 5 than a hybrid that you see in today’s game. You’re absolutely right that we lost to UofL because of this, how many of Snyder’s big scores came against Bam’s defense? If Monk’s off from outside (as he was in that game) UK is in trouble.