Scouting the Final Four: Coaches' Takes

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Kevin Jones

West Virginia's Kevin Jones can be a mismatch on the perimeter for opposing big men. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) tracked down assistant coaches from former opponents of each Final Four team, and asked them to share intel from their scouting reports. Here are the coaches' anonymous takes on West Virginia, Duke, Butler and Michigan State:


"They have so much length on defense -- Da'Sean Butler is 6-foot-7, Kevin Jones is 6-8, Wellington Smith is 6-8, and Devin Ebanks is 6-9 -- that when you combine that with their pressure mentality in the man-to-man, they're able to push your offense a lot further away from the basket than normal. ... The 1-3-1 they employed in the Kentucky game has been a great change-up for them, and they've gone to it a lot more this year. That tests your ability to catch and pass quickly, and again, their length makes it tough to move the ball and get open looks. ... They'll use Joe Mazzulla at the bottom of that 1-3-1, which isn't all that unusual, because the guy at the bottom has to do a lot of running from corner to corner, and needs to be quick. Most teams don't take advantage of him being down there, though. You need to either use a big guy to seal him off and post him up, or make good, diagonal passes from the middle to the corner that force him to chase so far that the zone flattens out as a result.

"Butler is one of the most versatile players in the country, in that he can play four different positions. He cuts extremely hard off of screens, and he's always cutting to score. He likes to use shot-fakes and foot-fakes, like jab-steps, to get you to back off a step or two, so he can hit a jumper over you. And if you put a smaller guard on him, he loves to drop down into the lane and post him up. ... They get a lot of mismatches on offense because of their size, and they mostly run a five-out motion with a lot of cutting and posting. I think the key is to not switch on screens, and keep your man in front of you, with the idea being to keep their offense as far away from the basket as possible, because they're not nearly as good shooters as they are offensive rebounders. I know they shot well against Kentucky, but they're not a great jump-shooting team overall -- they'd rather just get in a jumping contest with you around the rim.

"Coming out of timeouts, or early in the game, Huggins will get out of the motion and run quick-hitters. The key thing to know is that they only run those sets for three guys: Butler, Jones and Ebanks. We talked about Butler; Jones is actually a better shooter, and they'll sometimes have him screen for a guy off the ball -- they don't do a lot of ball-screens -- and then pop out to the perimeter for an open look. A lot of four-men struggle to contest his shot that far away from the rim. They'll also run isolation plays for Jones, where he'll post  then reverse pivot to face the basket. He wants to rise up and shoot it rather than dribble, so you've gotta jam him, almost get up chest-to-chest with him, and make him drive it instead.

"Anything for Ebanks is going to be close-in. He hardly shoots any threes, and is mostly comfortable from 15 feet and in -- but he's probably the best offensive rebounder on the team ... If you guard them really well until deep in the shot clock, watch out for Mazzulla -- he's a really strong left-handed driver, and he'll try to attack the rim and make something happen. He's almost always going to go to that strong left hand, and he likes to set up the drive with a shot-fake. He makes jumpers so rarely that you should never go for that fake."


"Probably the thing that Duke does best this year is crash the offensive glass. When shots go up on the glass, their bigs -- Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, the Plumlees -- know that's how they're going to get their scoring opportunities, because most of their normal freelance-motion is focused on getting good looks for the guards, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, and then Kyle Singler. ... But those bigs aren't selfish when they do get rebounds; they know to look to kick the ball back out to the perimeter, where Scheyer or Smith or Andre Dawkins might be waiting. And whereas some teams would use an offensive rebound as a chance to reset their offense, if Duke's guys have an open three, they'll just let it fly. Coach K lets them play like that.

"Scheyer is a really crafty scorer. I think some guys are shooters, and some guys are scorers, and although he can shoot it, he's more in the scorer category, because he can get points in unconventional ways. He can get to the middle of the floor and break you down; he can make difficult, unnatural shots in the lane; and he's good at drawing fouls. You have to watch out for him kicking out his legs on jumpers in order to draw contact. And once he gets to the foul line, he's pretty much automatic. ... Smith can get offense off the bounce better than Scheyer can, because Smith is more athletic, and he's very, very good at mid-range pull-ups. His body balance is excellent. You have to guard him close enough on the perimeter to honor his three-point shot, though, because he's been so accurate in the tournament. He's also their most dangerous guy in transition.

"Singler, to me, is still the key to the team. He's such a mismatch for so many opponents, because he's got the post-up game and he can knock down threes. Most three-men that are forced to guard Singler can't keep him off the glass, and most four-men can't keep him from scoring away from the basket. He has a non-stop motor and he's in constant motion while they're on offense.

"Zoubek is great at crashing the offensive glass because he'll cave you in on the weak side, create space, and be able to grab the ball because he's a such a massive guy. He's so big that even when he misses his own shot, he gets a lot of those misses back and finally scores. ... If they have a weakness, it's that they pressure so much on the perimeter -- they're so dedicated to stopping threes -- that you can break them down off the bounce. The big thing after that, though, is can you be strong and finish in the lane when Thomas, Zoubek and the Plumlees step over to help?"


"You need to use your man that guards Ronald Nored [the point guard] to help on everyone else, because he barely ever makes outside jump shots. The bottom line is that there's no one else on the floor that you can help off of -- not Shelvin Mack, or Willie Veasley, or Gordon Hayward, or Matt Howard -- so you need to use Nored's guy to do that. Everyone else has to stay home and not follow normal help-side rules. ... It's important to make Mack uncomfortable, because he normally plays with such great poise, and can kill you off of ballscreens. He's got a great right-handed stop-and-go move that you need to try to take away. I don't think teams in this tournament have pressured him enough, or blitzed screens enough, to really bother him.

"Hayward is a little more of a driver than he is a shooter. He's a right-handed player who loves to go left; his first move on the outside will usually be a fake sweep right, and then a drive left. You want to make him receive the ball out by the NBA three-point line, so he can't just rise and shoot on the catch, and then sit on his left to take away that move. He's also prone to leaving his feet when he drives, so your help-side guys can try to step in and take charges.

"Howard is a tenacious kid who has a European style to his game, in terms of his acting. He's very difficult to officiate, because he's always involved in contact, and can get really dramatic in the post. He's undersized for a five-man, but he's unbelievably mobile, and he doesn't take any possessions off. He does a great job of taking an extra pivot, where he literally steps around his man to get an angle, and finds a way to release his shot. Big guys who stay straight up -- rather than staying down in their defensive stance -- can get killed by those extra pivots.

"Veasley is the most underrated guy on the team. He's 6-2, but is strong and athletic enough to guard five positions; when they played Clemson, he was guarding Trevor Booker. He and Nored -- who usually takes the opponent's best guard -- just do a phenomenal job on defense. Here's the reason why Butler is such a good team, and it's something that people don't always talk about: Their two best offensive players, Mack and Hayward, never have to take the other team's best two guys on D. That's where Veasley and Nored come in. Those two don't need to carry the load on offense; they're just tremendous defenders who go after the opponents' stars. Butler's workload is really well divided. Not a lot of teams are like that.

"As a team, their intelligence level on defense is incredible. Their reaction to when one of their teammates makes a mistake is impeccable -- they see it happen, and everyone reacts instantly, giving just the right amount of help, and then sprinting back to their man. A lot of kids on other teams will over-help, and stay too long, and that usually leads to a good shot. Butler doesn't let that happen."


"With Korie Lucious filling in for Kalin Lucas at the point, and being the only true point guard that the Spartans have left, I think there's an opportunity to pressure him and wear him out as much as possible. He's a good catch-and-shoot guy, and he can do some things in the mid-range, but he doesn't finish nearly as well at the rim as Lucas did, so force him to try to make plays in traffic.

"Durrell Summers is playing as well as anyone in the country right now. You can't let him shoot uncontested threes; what you want to do is make him take a few dribbles, and that's where he becomes turnover-prone. What Summers does a great job of -- and this is something their whole team does a great job of -- is cutting really hard off angled screens and down-screens. He's exceptional at running tight curls off those screens, catching the ball, and knocking down a 15-foot jumper.

"It's really important to make sure your guys put a body on Raymar Morgan on the offensive glass; he's a mismatch for a lot of three-men, if Izzo uses him in that position. Morgan's offensive game is almost all going to come from 17 feet and in. He doesn't have a go-to offensive move, but he'll just go to the block and attack the rim, and put pressure on your defense that way. Delvon Roe, even though he's hurting, does a lot of that, too. He's a guy who's going to take the action to you, so you need to body up and make him play from seven feet out, rather than allowing him to have room to make moves in the post.

"Derrick Nix, who starts but doesn't play starter's minutes, loves the left-handed jump hook off the block. If not that, he loves to do a spin move on the baseline from either block. His entire offensive game is going to be from five feet and in. And really, with him and Roe, a big part of their offensive game is just going to come from offensive rebounding. Sometimes I think the game almost starts for them when someone else puts the ball up towards the rim.