Ode To That Darned Defense

Bill Russell

Today’s NCAA tournament games are going to be a blast – I mean, when are they not? Don’t lament about low scoring or blowouts; you haven’t seen boring until you watch a high school basketball game where one team runs stall ball right from the tip and the final score is 20-6.

Now, I’m not saying that a foul-and-free-throw fest is good basketball, but strong defense is often the hidden factor in a win or a loss, especially for those fabled buzzer-beater games that we all love so much. So let’s talk about D, shall we?

I don’t know if there really is an equal to football’s ‘shut down corner’ in basketball. I do know that there are a lot of defensive stars who nobody talks about. Great defense is ninjitsu; it is a hidden, deadly art. Media ignore incredible defensive performances because that often means the player being guarded is quiet most of the night. We focus on offense in basketball; it’s fun to watch and fun to play. Nobody worries about defense in street ball, why would any player? I never did. Maybe once by accident.

But as today’s games tip, let’s try and pay attention to where the ball isn’t. When a guard is ‘overdribbling’, let’s take a look at his teammates and see if anyone is actually open. When the ball swings around the perimeter, watch how many times the weak side falls too far away from their man. Kentucky is the favorite this year because of their athleticism and deep length inside. But is there a team that can lock down their guards? Yes. Several. And if…big IF…one team can keep Kentucky’s guards from feeding those post players, that’s trouble for UK.

Defense starts with ‘ball-you-man’ and ends with understanding the chess match of basketball. Great defenders have fantastic lateral speed but also know when not to crowd their man. Long arms are hard to shoot over but a big man with poor timing is just going to be swatting air and going for pump fakes. When the deep three falls as the horn goes off, and one team erupts in joy at a last second win, let’s take a moment to remember the missed defensive assignments that happened earlier to allow the score to be so close.

When you watch the NC Top 80 this weekend live on NetCast Sports (shameless plug), watch to see which players take defense seriously. If they take defense seriously in pickup ball with cameras watching, what do you think they will do when the games are for real?

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