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Tubby Smith | Ball Line Defense Leads to Opponents Poor Shooting Percentage

My thoughts on the what to expect on defense from Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech men's basketball team this upcoming season.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Assistant coach Bob Starkey of the women’s basketball team over at Texas A&M University has a pretty cool blog called Hoop Thoughts. He posts a lot of inspirational and positive things that he uses to help coach his team. A little over a year ago he posted Tubby Smith: Defensive Principles. This is a must read for anyone that wants to get a picture of what is in store for Texas Tech basketball this upcoming season.

Like the Hoop Thoughts blog post there is a lot of material out there on Tubby Smith’s ball line defense. I’ve researched it some and come to my own conclusion… it works if the defense can learn it. It is a complex system with a simple philosophy. The philosophy is to make the other team shoot the ball far away from the basket because it is a harder shot to make than one from close to the basket. Simple philosophy, but the X’s and O’s to the defense are a lot more difficult to learn. I’ll try my best to breakdown the advantages and disadvantages we will see on D this season without the X’s and O’s.

Not going into every defensive situation or different set (wing pass, post entry, corner pass, dribble penetration, etc.) I’ll try to help you understand the basic concept of the ball line defense. Think of the imaginary yellow first-down line on TV for football… in basketball the “ball line” can be thought of as a similar imaginary line that is right on the basketball. The ball line extends the entire width of the court just like that yellow first-down line does on the field in football. Wherever the basketball moves the ball line moves with it. Coach Smith teaches the defense that they should be as close to the ball line as possible. Also, it seems like there is emphasis for the defense to play on the strongside of the basket and leave the weakside open.

There are obvious advantages to the defense. It stacks the area down low as the ball moves closer to the basket. By clogging up this area it is harder for an opponent to get the ball inside. One of Coach Smith’s defensive strategies is to not allow drives to the basket. By congesting the inside he can accomplish that. I would expect a lot of frontcourt double teams to happen because Coach Smith does not want the posts to allow entry passes down low. Another point of emphasis for Tech is going to be trying to smother the ball while in the hands of the offensive player, always be running to where the ball goes. Tech will put constant pressure on the ball and contest every shot. We will see Tech trying to prevent lots of passes and go for lots of steals. In short the team will be all over the place yet they have to be disciplined enough to understand where to go and what to do. Our guys are going to have to be excellent at communicating especially on the perimeter at the guard position where a lot of screen switches will be happening. The guards need to have high basketball IQ and show leadership on the floor right away for this D to work. At the end of a game Tech is striving to have the other team shoot lower percentage shots from downtown instead of shots from mid-range or in the paint.

I’ve heard what people from Kentucky and Minnesota have bickered about Tubby Smith’s ball line defense and it scares me because I can see the disadvantages right away in this D. It’s a simple philosophy, but not easy to learn the overall system. Actually it can be quite confusing. If our team gets discouraged or if they do not believe in the ball line defense then it will not work. A good defense takes a full team effort and one weak link on the court can make the whole squad can suffer. If a guy doesn’t get out on his man when a cross-court pass happens away from the ball line we will see a lot of long bombs against us, and a majority will be wide open shots. That is the biggest complaint from others about the ball line defense; it leaves wide open threes available for the other team. Let’s hope that other teams are not hot from the outside. Another complaint about the defense is that when it is not run properly it allows entry passes to the paint. Down low on the block if the 4 and 5 position aren’t paying attention they can let a guy sneak right behind them. The guards need to watch their defensive switches because they could lose a man easily while he is making a cut. Communication is extremely important for our squad to run the ball line defense or else the opponents will be driving right down the lane to the hoop and flushing the ball down our throat with ease. I tend to fear that we might lack the communication skills needed for this defense to work right now.

I went and checked out some of Tubby Smith’s Minnesota team stats to try and ease my worries and one in particular stuck out to me… opponents field goal percentage. Over the past four seasons Tubby Smith had his team ranked #42 at 41.4%, #78 at 41.4%, #21 at 39.9%, and #33 at 40%. It seems as though Coach Smith is accomplishing his simple philosophy of making the opponents shoot harder shots based on those stats. I remind myself he will keep doing the same here at Texas Tech. I do have faith that we will see some vast improvements on defense this upcoming season at Tech, but there might be some steep learning curves involved for the players on the team. With a great coaching staff… and players that are willing and eager to learn I think anything is possible. They all will need to work extra hard to be able to implement this defense on the court in the Big 12. I am interested to see what adjustments will be made throughout the season to the defense; but even more excited to see which of our players will rise to become dominant forces on the opposite side of the ball.