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OFD Films - Notre Dame Basketball's Offensive Sets

The Notre Dame basketball team has been burning up the nets this season, among the top teams in the nation shooting the basketball and in overall offensive efficiency. Join us for a quick film session to understand a few of the sets that power the Irish attack.

DJ finishing off a clinical sideline screen play
DJ finishing off a clinical sideline screen play
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team took full advantage of their Monday opportunity in Chapel Hill. With the Big Monday audience watching them take on the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, Notre Dame flexed their offensive muscle against one of the better defending teams in the league. Mike Brey's team put on a tremendous performance, one that drew a lot of national attention. That attention included Kendall Marshall, UNC alum and current Milwaukee Buck.

Since the football guys don't have the film room occupied 24x7 this time of year, I thought I'd head down there and put together a few GIF's to show you how ND runs some of their core sets and talk about the specific things Marshall calls out.

Spread the Floor

Mike Brey has always preached offensive spacing. It has been a hallmark of all his teams and a key driver of Notre Dame's offensive efficiency.

ND Spacing

In Notre Dame's spread look, Jerian Grant is playing PG and has a significant size advantage over his man. As a PoY candidate, the defense has to pay attention when Martinas Geben comes out for an extremely high screen and Grant looks to turn the corner. As Shane Battier pointed out in the broadcast, that puts a big team like Carolina in a very difficult position. As Grant starts his attack, not a single defender has a foot in the paint, Steve Vasturia's job is to stay higher than the ball, so that he and V.J. Beachem can't be guarded by one guy if Vasturia's man goes to help. In this case, Vasturia's man does rotate early to stop Grant almost 30' from the basket, which forces V.J.'s guy to step almost to the foul line extended. Grant makes the right read, fires the ball down to V.J. in the corner for a rhythm 3 before the defense has a prayer of recovering.

Side PnR (Pick-And-Roll)

Notre Dame plays three distinctive screen-and-roll looks in their offense and frequently revert to one of them when the initial motion doesn't produce a clean look.

The first is the most basic and traditional high ball screen. With Grant handling, Zach Auguste comes high to set a nice, solid screen above the 3 point line. Where Notre Dame can hurt teams in this traditional look is by spreading out opponents to both sides with Vasturia high outside the 3 point line and Pat Connaughton on the weak side baseline and Demetrius Jackson staying above the FT line. Again, this keeps any UNC defender from having a foot in the lane. Prior to this possession, Auguste had burned UNC on the roll, so his defender doesn't hedge hard enough to slow Grant down, so Grant accelerates to the rim. In this case, he goes for a second SC Top Play dunk that gets thrown into UNC's bench. While this trip didn't work out, look at how open Connaughton is when their defense tries to collapse on Grant. The right decision here was probably to kick, but you can't fault your best player for being aggressive.

ND Horns Set

Horns is the second screen-and-roll set, and one of the more dangerous looks Notre Dame can present to a defense. Here you see both Auguste and Connaughton (5 and 4) presenting high ball screens above the elbows for Grant (playing the 1). DJ and Vasturia are spreading the defense at the baseline, spotting up for corner 3's. When they're at the top, both Grant and DJ can go either way with the ball, so the two high screens keep the defense honest. If either man hedges too high to Grant, the screeners can easily slip to the goal because the help is so spread out. With Auguste so greatly improved in his roll game, and Connaughton such a threat to pick and pop, there's very little a defense can do against this look. Pick your poison.

What Marshall pointed out was the great success ND had running their third, and most frequent screen and roll action: sideline ball screens. The halftime analysts also noted how much pressure the Irish offense was able to put on UNC's defense with sideline ball screens. The sideline screen involves pinning the defender down as the ball handler brings the ball from the corner or wing, back up to the center of the floor. Notre Dame spreads out the opposition by playing their good shooting 2, 3, and 4 in spot-up positions on the weak side of this play. Again, this keeps help from cheating in too early.

In this first example, you're going to see Auguste offer Grant a sideline screen early in the game. Because Meeks turns his attention to Grant as he turns the corner into the middle of the floor, Auguste has an easy back-cut on the roll. A perfect pocket pass from Grant results in an Auguste hammer at the rim for 2.

In the second example, you can see Auguste offer DJ a ver similar screen in the same spot in the floor. The action is set up by getting DJ a rub on his way to the wing. Then Auguste comes up to set the sideline screen. He gets a good rub on DJ's defender and Meeks elects to trail Auguste to the rim to prevent another throw down. DJ is left with a wide open 15 foot pull-up that he drains easily.

Those 2 motions set up the highlight of the game and another monster dunk by the emerging star. In this instance, DJ gets the exact same rub and he and Auguste set up the 2 man game in the exact same spot on the floor. Having been burnt twice, the Tar Heel defenders both stay high above the screen and cheat to the high side. Again, VJ, Conaughton and Vastuira all stay above the 3 point line to limit the availability of weak side help. DJ sees the defense cheating and uses his quickness to go straight to the rim for the spectacular finish.

Baseline Drive, Baseline Drift

Marshall also referred to baseline drive, baseline drift. In the early minutes of the 2nd half, you can pick up on this motion as you see Vasturia take the ball from the wing to the rim, watch the motion DJ takes to the corner.

This is an extremely popular motion in the NBA, where the corner 3 has disproportionately high value vs. just about any other spot on the floor. Moneyball teams like the Rockets use this motion all the time, as do the Spurs. In this case, Vasturia attempts the tough reverse, but he had DJ sitting pretty in the corner. This will be a great teaching moment in film study. Beachem made his living with this motion in Chapel Hill. Both his first half threes were off of baseline drifts to get open looks. If you want to see some good examples of the baseline drift looks, check out the Raptors executing it here, and this compilation of Spurs drift 3's.

Floppy Set

The way the game was televised, it is a bit harder to show you the floppy set. It is easier to see from a baseline look (where my seats happened to be Monday night). This is a fairly typical NBA set because it gives you a chance to let a good perimeter player make multiple reads and run his defender to get the entire defense moving laterally. The Irish will frequently run the motion for either DJ or Grant, with the other handling the ball. Watch for a flat look with all 4 guys below the FT line, close to the blocks while the ball is at the point. The 2 (usually Grant in this set) starts under the rim and has an option of selecting a double screen on one side or a single on the other with the intent of getting him the ball on the wing for an open jumper or a drive with the defender out of position. Here's an example of him selecting the double screen side.

Floppy Double 1

Typically, this leads to the 5 man flaring to the short corner while the 3 man (often Vasturia) takes a weak side cross screen to get to the 3 pt line, while the 4 (often Connaughton) steps out to exchange with the 1 (Usually DJ) while the 1 floats weak side. The motion clears out the driving lane and has the entire defense moving and struggling to keep vision on both their man and the ball.

Floppy Double Second

More often, ND is going to use floppy to set up their killer sideline screen and roll action. In this case, Grant selects the single screen from Connaughton. Connaughton then flares to one corner while Vasturia heads to the other. Auguste then flashes from the weak side, through the high post looking to setup sideline screen and roll.

Floppy Single

Floppy Single Second

That's what makes this so deadly. The defense is already moving in uncomfortable ways before Grant accepts the pass on the wing. The Irish can run this set for Grant, DJ, or Connaughton with ease. All 3 are a danger to drain that open three off the pin-down and all 3 are deadly attacking the rim. Brey can run the floppy set for whoever has the hot hand. With such dangerous attacking wing players, the lack of immediate help puts tremendous pressure on the defense and helps drive Notre Dame's high offensive efficiency ratings. It also makes them incredibly fun to watch.