The Offense of Husky Basketball Under Lorenzo Romar

facebooktwitterreddit

The Washington Huskies consistently average around 80 points per game over the last few seasons. When you look at that statistics alone, there does not appear to be any problem with the Huskies offense. But, for anyone who has watched this team over the last few years, you know that the offense is far from a smooth running machine. Sure, against weaker competition who are slower and shorter, the Huskies can run up 100+. Against teams with talent, but without depth, the Huskies can simply wear them out with their run, run, run attitude, stifling defense, and quick movement into transition.

But, if Oregon State has shown the Dawgs anything, it is that if you slow things up, clog the lanes, and force the Huskies into a halfcourt offense, then things can go badly awry. Unfortunately, Lorenzo Romar seems unable to institute an effective half court offense that break down a teams’ zones or extended box-and-1.

Far too often it seems like when the Huskies are forced into a halfcourt set, the point guard just stands out there with the ball 35 feet from the basketball waiting for someone to do something. But, instead what we see are four guys standing around waiting for the point guard to initiate something. There appears to be little communication or understanding of what their roles are.

Then,

when the point guard finally does start to initiate something with 8 seconds left on the shot clock, the opposing big men smother him in the key forcing him to either throw up a wild shot (luckily Isaiah Thomas was good at that) or throw an erratic pass to the wing for a contest 3-point shot at the buzzer sounds. Or, as we unfortunately saw with Darnell Gant against Nevada and far too many other times, the players are so unaware of the situation that they give up a shot clock violation without even attempting the shot.

Another common scenario is for the point guard to come up the floor quickly and then some player almost at random comes off the baseline to the wing and hucks up a quick 3-point shot just 3-seconds into the shot clock. Now, when that player is CJ Wilcox or Scott Suggs, no one is complaining. They can have any shot they want. But, when that player is Darnell Gant or Desmond Simmons, you have to start wondering if that was the best the offense could do in that situation.

Far too often on the road, the quick three early in the shot clock is the shot of choice early in games. When those 3’s are not falling, as they often don’t in unfamiliar settings, then the team quickly finds itself down and scrambling to get back into the game. But, without the ability to settle down and actually run an effective offense, it is difficult to do so.

But, the offensive “play”, if that is what you can call it, that drives me the most crazy is the high “pick” by Aziz (or it also used to be MBA doing it) for the point guard at the top of the key. I can’t even count how many times I have seen Aziz literally bring a double team out to Gaddy or Isaiah Thomas or Venoy Overton the last two seasons. Suddenly you have two players smothering the guard and having that guard back way up to near half court to set things up again. Only now, you just wasted 8 seconds off the shot clock.

Now, this high pick could be potentially useful if Aziz were a threat for the pick-and-roll or long range jumper. I used to utilize just that play with my high school team to allow my slashing point guard to drive into the key for a layup, dish to the wing for a 3-pointer, or if he was forced off to the side to drop it off to the big man setting the pick for a nice 15-foot jumper or drive to the hoop.

While it was ineffective many times for Isaiah Thomas, he had the kind of speed or slashing ability to make something of it from time to time. But, I am sorry, Abdul Gaddy is way too slow to take advantage of it. Against Nevada and Marquette, I saw Gaddy give-up a turnover on just that same play twice in each game. In fact, I’d gander a guess that we have at least one turnover per game over the last three years with that “high pick”.

I have been watching these games carefully since I first noticed this pattern of chaotic incompetence in the half court set against Arizona State in 2010 when they only scored 51 points. In all the games since, I have seen no evidence that they have improved their ability to run set plays or effectively break down a solid zone against opponents they should beat.

Stanford and Oregon State effectively neutralized the Huskies’ offense in 2011 by using a stiff zone and forcing the Huskies into the half court. The Huskies only scored 56 points in each of those games and lost both of them.

Now, Romar has gone on the record to say that he wants his players to “just play” and gives them the freedom on the floor to make the decisions. He wants them using a motion offense, with lots of movement, screens and picks, and developing isolation plays where their superior talent can overwhelm defenders. Sure, there is something to be said for that if they have shown a propensity to deal with adverse situations on the road when the offense isn’t clicking. But, there is also nothing wrong with good old fashioned fundamental basketball. There is nothing wrong with drawing up plays.

There is a reason why those guys you see on those Rucker Park videos on ESPN can do amazing things, but do not end up playing basketball at a major Division I university. Street ball doesn’t win games in organized basketball…organization does. Coaches with “systems” have been very successful all over college basketball at small colleges with lesser talent. How can the Valparaisos, George Masons, and Princetons of the world compete with the big boys? They use smart players and effectively implement a system to break down opponents.

Another scenario that drives me crazy is their inability to effectively bring the ball inbounds. The inbounds play of choice is to huck a rainbow pass 50 feet down court to the guard in the backcourt. When they try to actually run an inbounds play, it seems more often than not it is tipped or stolen by the other team. Even those rainbow passes are stolen from time-to-time. Heck, this is something high school coaches practice every day. First get it in safely and if the opportunity is there for quick strike, take it. But, we’ve seen enough turnovers on inbounds passes the last three years to make my stomach sick.

Am I saying Lorenzo Romar needs to completely revamp his entire basketball style and system? No…His high octane transition game is very effective in 2/3rds of the games. But, there needs to be a backup plan. There needs to be a leader ready to call out plays, get the team into the offense sooner in the shot clock, and some semblance of movement by the players in the half court to fully take advantage of the athletic and talent advantage they have over most of their opponents.

Now, some will argue that the team has never been the same since Ken Bone left. Ken Bone certainly had the experience of running a team and calling plays, being a head coach for 12 years at Seattle Pacific, and was considered by many to be the main play caller for the Huskies as well.

However, Percy Allen at the Seattle Times recently told me that there is a misconception out there that Ken Bone or Cameron Dollar actually ran the offense. He told me that Romar has always been the main playcaller and that the assistants were not directly involved in “running the offense”. Instead, he told me that each assistant is in charge of scouting a particular opponent, so that they would rotate around in having more of a say in a particular game plan based on their scouting.

In either case, after Bone left, the Huskies proceeded to miss two NCAA tournaments until they returned to win the Pac-10 championship in 2009 with Cameron Dollar as the lead assistant. However, with Dollar now at Seattle U., it is not obvious who the lead assistant is currently. In some coaching situations, most of the in-game play calling is done by the assistant coaches, while the head coach manages the player rotations and referees. But, apparently that is not how Romar chooses to do things.

The inability of this team to function in the half court and against the zone is the direct responsibility of Lorenzo Romar to fix either through a change of strategy or bringing in an assistant coach who knows how to do it.