Tony Bennett’s plan almost worked. The Virginia head coach devised a strategy that filtered all of the Boston College men’s basketball team’s offense to the perimeter, and it limited the Eagles to just 53 points. Unfortunately for Bennett, his Cavaliers only posted 52 points of their own, leading to a UVA loss, but his team showed a serious deficiency in the BC offense.
Nearly every time sophomore forward Ryan Anderson caught the ball in the post on Sunday, there was a trap waiting for him. This wasn’t the first time Anderson has seen two defenders on the block, but the Cavs executed the double-team better than any other BC opponent.
The effectiveness of the trap goes beyond just shutting down the Eagles’ leading scorer. With Dennis Clifford’s injury, Anderson is the only player who is a legitimate threat to create scoring opportunities down low. By taking that threat away, all of BC’s offense is forced out to the perimeter. This puts much more pressure on the guards, especially Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan, to beat their man off the dribble than the young ball-handlers can take for a full game. It also eliminates inside-out shooting opportunities, which are the most efficient 3-point attempts the Eagles can get.
BC can’t help it if teams decide to trap Anderson, but the team can be much more effective when the double comes. Anderson received seven post touches against UVA and was trapped on six of them. The seven plays led to two turnovers, a soft flagrant foul on Anderson, two free throws, a missed three, and five points. After Anderson got the first double team early in the first half, there wasn’t another post touch until the second half began. The Eagles only scored 24 points in the first as the whole offense got funneled to the perimeter.
This is Anderson’s first post touch, and the Cavaliers have done a good job of forcing him off the block. The Eagles will eventually use this to their advantage later on because it opens up the lane, but that look isn’t there yet. The initial problem with the play isn’t with Anderson, but the spacing of the rest of the players. Hanlan and Rahon need more separation at the top of the key. The goal should be to force one defender to guard two offensive players, and then make cuts so that he has to pick one, leaving the other man open for a trey or a lay-up. With the set up in this play, the one UVA defender is able to stay close enough to Eddie Odio to discourage Anderson from hitting him on the cut while also being in position to steal a skip pass to Rahon. Anderson eventually dribbles the ball out and the play ends in a turnover.
Anderson doesn’t get the ball in the post again until early in the second half. After watching him closely throughout the rest of the first half, he doesn’t make many attempts to post up after that initial trap and the guards also don’t try to feed him. By ignoring the inside game entirely, the Eagles put far too much pressure on perimeter dribbling and screens as the only source of offense.
BC spaces much better on this trap, and UVA’s Joe Harris is forced to choose between Odio’s cut and Heckmann on the perimeter. He cuts off Odio, leaving Heckmann open for three. Heckmann has significantly improved his ability to catch and shoot from deep, so the Eagles should welcome this look. Anderson, however, jumps backwards as he tries to complete the skip pass and it sails over Heckmann’s head for a turnover. Rather than fighting through and splitting the trap, Anderson usually goes for this risky jump pass. Splitting the trap isn’t easy, but if Anderson tries it he can then take one dribble back, throw a pass-fake to Odio, and then hit the open Heckmann without having to fade away.
After being called for a flagrant foul the next time he receives the ball down low, Anderson gets this opportunity to go one-on-one. Hanlan feeds him and then quickly fills opposite, loading the weak side. The UVA defenders can’t decide who should trap (something that Bennett would get on them for during the next timeout), and Anderson takes advantage by backing down his man and drawing a foul. He proves here that the double-team isn’t just to slow down the whole offense. If he’s left alone on the block, he’s starting to prove that he can create good shots like he does on this play.
On his next two post touches, Anderson finds Heckmann for two open NBA 3-pointers. Heckmann makes the first and then misses the second. These aren’t awful looks, and Anderson actually does a decent job of passing out of the trap, but with better spacing from their teammates Heckmann would be able to set up right on the line rather than a few feet behind it.
Here’s a look at the second shot, which Heckmann misses. After hitting Anderson, Hanlan starts cutting through the lane. Usually, this is the right move, but here it messes with the two-on-one that Heckmann and Odio have going with UVA’s Joe Harris. As Odio comes up to back screen Harris to make Heckmann even more open, Hanlan breaks up the action and allows his defenders to close out to Heckmann on the shot. It’s important for Hanlan to stay where he is, or even cut to the ball-side corner, because the Eagles can only take advantage of the trap if weak-side two-on-one is set up just right.
Here is the final, and best executed, trap play of the game. After skipping out opposite over and over again, UVA is starting to cheat the wing player (Heckmann, in this case). Odio has looked open on most of these double teams cutting to the rim, and Anderson finally hits him for the dunk. The pass gets there mainly because Anderson turns to face the rim, rather than attempting the turnaround jump-pass which led to turnovers earlier.
If BC can figure out this spacing better and Anderson can be stronger with his passes, then the traps can actually create more points than they are taking away. On this last play, Rahon actually stopped the ball movement and called for Anderson to take the ball in the post, knowing full well that the trap was coming. The Eagles played into UVA’s strategy and then made the most of it. It’s going to be tough for BC to put up more than 60 points if all of the action has to come from the outside, but it will be much easier to hit 70 or more points if the Eagles can execute against the trap like they did on this final play.