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Basketball Film Study: Washington Gets Historic Win Over #2 Kansas

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Go in-depth on how the Huskies made this miracle upset happen

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I am sorry to inform everyone that apparently I will be forced to resign from my contributions to the UW basketball coverage here at the UWDP. You see, there has only been one game all season where prior commitments prevented me from watching a UW basketball game. And it happened to be Wednesday night when the Huskies shocked the college basketball world by knocking off #2 Kansas 74-65 in Kansas City.

My plan is this: I am going to watch the Gonzaga game. Then if we win I will say I was watching to prove I’m not a bad luck charm. And if we lose I’ll say I wasn’t watching to make everyone think I’m not a bad luck charm. Because how am I supposed to stop watching this team? That was some serious fun.

Let’s take a deep dive into how Washington was able to pull the upset over Kansas with some film study.

Offense

The Washington offense this season has been run primarily through Noah Dickerson. There are multiple ways of getting him the ball but allowing Dickerson to post up his defender isn’t a bad way of going about things since he’s capable of beating 95% of post defenders in this situation on a pretty regular basis. He also helps get opposing bigs into foul trouble which opens up drives for everyone else. The problem is the double team. Noah has not exactly been a willing passer in his career. His assist rate raised from 2.4% to 5.4% between years 1 and 2 which is still a miserable total. But after last night’s game in which he netted a career high 5 assists it sits at 10.1%.

Dickerson sees the double team coming and makes the difficult cross court pass to find Thybulle wide open for a 3-pointer. Kansas’s center Udoka Azubuike leaves Sam Timmins to help on Dickerson which is what the scouting report says to do. This causes Lagerald Vick to leave Thybulle and front Timmins lest he give up an easy lob dunk. Azubuike is worried about the pass to Timmins as well. It almost looks like they’re trying to trap but they don’t surround Noah. The angle he takes puts up a wall between Dickerson and the basket rather than actually preventing a pass. The expectation is that Noah will be forced to get the ball back to Crisp and reset the offense and allow everyone on Kansas to get back on their man. But Dickerson has the vision and the ability to get the pass off to Thybulle who is in perfect shooting rhythm and nails the jumper. The last thing to note is that as soon as Timmins sees the pass go cross court he immediately tries to get a body on Vick and keep him from reaching Thybulle in time for a close out. I don’t think Vick would’ve gotten there anyways but it’s a heads up play.

Here’s a very similar play except with walk-on Chris Young guarding Dickerson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk helping to double team. This time it’s clear that the help is trying to swipe at the ball to cause a turnover rather than trap. Svi never comes within 15 feet of Thybulle as Dickerson gets the ball and instead just chills in front of the restricted zone waiting for Noah to get close enough for him to help. But the second that he moves over Dickerson jumps and whips the ball over to Thybulle who has been patiently waiting at his favorite spot, on the wing. He’s locked and loaded by the time the ball arrives and puts it through the basket for 3. If you don’t have guards with the dribbling/passing skills to reliably drive and kick then the next best option is to get the ball down low and find the open shooter when the help arrives.

Here’s a set that I really loved to help ensure that Noah doesn’t get doubled. Hameir Wright and Noah Dickerson essentially set up a high pick and roll at the top of the arc. The defense has to prepare for the possibility of using that screen to drive to the hole. Instead Noah slips to the basket while Hameir remains in place and gets the pass from Jaylen. When Dickerson gets position down low the 4 other Huskies are spread out around the perimeter and he’s in complete isolation. At this point Azubuike is at Dickerson’s mercy and he is able to flip it up and in. If Matisse’s guy in the top corner had committed to the double team it would have resulted in yet another wide open Matisse 3.

And this is the counter move. The Huskies once again run the high pick and roll only this time it’s Timmins, Crisp, and Dickerson all at the top of the arc. Matisse dribbles around and absolutely no one on Kansas thinks he’s going to keep the ball. Svi and Azubuike are focused entirely on a potential Dickerson roll to the basket while Devonte’ Graham just follows David Crisp around. Lagerald Vick gets caught just enough on Sam Timmins’ screen that he has absolutely no chance of catching up to Thybulle. Theoretically, one of the other defenders should stop the ball and give him a chance to catch up but they all reacted too late and it resulted in an emphatic dunk.

The last few GIFs are to give kudos to David Crisp who played his best game as a point guard in his Washington career. It raises the ceiling of this team so significantly if Crisp can find guys and play for the team the way he did today rather than hunting contested 3-pointers early in the shot clock like normal. Crisp here drives to the cup in what seems like a typical Crisp wild turnover but instead he wraps around the defender to drop it off right into Dickerson’s chest for an easy basket.

There’s not a whole lot in the way of analysis on this one. Crisp takes the handoff and the Kansas defenders attempt to switch but Nahziah Carter’s defender isn’t quite fast enough to stay in front of David here. The defender on Timmins recognizes and tries to take the charge but Crisp only partially contacts him and the refs understandably say it’s a no call although Kansas fans would surely disagree. But there is a very small window for Crisp to deliver that ball into and he does it. Credit to Timmins as well for catching the ball low when he was asking for the lob and then finishing strong to the rim.

Let’s bring the offense section home by putting it altogether. The Huskies try to run the same action they do earlier with Noah posting up and Hameir ready to make an entry pass from the top of the arc. But neither player is open so Crisp keeps the ball. Eventually he breaks Mykhailiuk’s ankles then drives and drops it off to Dickerson when Azubuike challenges to block the shot. And of course Noah finishes with the dunk. I love that you can see from the body language the moment that Azubuike realizes he messed up and Dickerson was going to end up with the dunk.

Defense

The game plan for the Husky defense was clear all night. Kansas entered the night 11th in the country in 3-point shooting and the Huskies were determined to make Kansas find another way to beat them. That’s especially prudent since Kansas came into the game almost last in % of their points coming from the line. They rely on dunks and 3-pointers but don’t create contact.

I don’t have clips of it but one of the biggest problems for the Huskies in previous games this season was the barrier of the zone relative to the arc. The Huskies generally set up with their toes inside the line to prevent a shot from right at the arc. That’s all well and good but it turns out that teams are allowed to shoot from further back if they want to and many players are capable of making those shots without a contest.

There’s a reason for the Huskies wanting to avoid extending the defense. Keeping the front of the zone back lessens how soft the middle is. It makes it harder for teams to get the ball at the free throw line where, depending on the defense’s reaction, they can either: shoot a wide open 10-footer, get the ball to a player behind the zone for a dunk, or kick out to an open shooter. Hoping the opponent misses long 3’s sounds like a better option much of the time. But the tape showed that you absolutely can’t rely on Kansas missing wide open long 3’s. So they extended the defense and left the middle wide open for Lagerald Vick and were ok with forcing Vick to beat them single handedly.

This was the 1st play of the game. The defense extends beyond the three point line and Kansas easily gets it to Vick in the middle of the zone. The person to watch is Sam Timmins. He takes a tentative step towards Vick in order to contest a jumper. But instead Vick just throws up a lob to Azubuike who slams it down. There’s a reason that Azubuike was shooting nearly 80% from the field coming into the game. The man can catch and dunk a basketball. This exact action has murdered the Huskies all year. It also is contrary to what Coach Hopkins wanted Timmins to do and throughout the rest of the game the Huskies played this set differently.

And this is the very next defensive possession. This is what the Huskies tried to do the rest of the night. Vick is a very good passer, everyone on Kansas is a good shooter, and Azubuike is amazing at throwing down alley-oops. So what does that leave? Let Vick shoot 10-footers all day. And he did, attempting 23 shots with 21 of them coming from inside of the arc. You can see that Crisp and Thybulle both have their entire bodies set up past the 3-point line to discourage the deep shot. That allows Svi to get a bounce pass off between them to Vick in the middle. Timmins thinks for a half second of contesting and then remembers what happened last time and stays glued to Azubuike. Vick pulls up and tries a 7-foot floater that doesn’t go in and the Huskies corral the rebound. Vick ended the game with just 0.93 points per possession. The Kansas offense even after last night’s game was averaging 1.07 points per possession. That’s how you beat the #2 team in the country.

I wanted to highlight the defensive brilliance of Matisse Thybulle at least once. The dude is amazing playing in the 2-3 zone. Check out here as he realizes that Jaylen Nowell has left his guy in the corner to cover Azubuike. So Matisse heads in that direction expecting a wrap around pass along the baseline. Halfway there, Matisse reads the eyes of the passer and figures out instead that the pass is going to go back to his man. He stops on a dime and heads back the other way in time to use his go-go gadget arms for the deflection. From there it’s a matter of securing the ball, taking one dribble, and soaring in for the most exciting play of the night.

Post-Game Celebration

Check out the commitment from Hameir Wright standing behind the door in order to ensure that he can keep up his end of the surprise. And great teamwork from Sam Timmins dishing the assist of the water bottle to David Crisp when realizing his teammate doesn’t have one.

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