Due to the ever depressing reality that is this Omicron wave, there hasn’t been a lot of Wildcat basketball for all of us to enjoy this holiday season. Thus, as the preeminent basketball sicko on Evanston’s campus, I’ll be bringing you some daily clips and thoughts about Northwestern basketball and what’s been going on on the hardwood this season. This time, I’ll be talking about an inbounds play that you might just recognize from the many times the ‘Cats have used it.
For the past three years, I have watched far more Northwestern’s men’s basketball than is recommended by your local medical professionals, so I am well equipped to diagnose this play whenever it pops across my screen.
Death, taxes and a Chris Collins’ Northwestern team running a play to get a jumper with the shooter moving to his right on a baseline out of bounds play. I don’t have specific numbers on this, but I feel pretty safe guessing that this has been NU’s call on well over 50 percent of the opportunities they’ve had in this position, especially when positioned to the right of the basket the ‘Cats are trying to score on.
In previous seasons, this was a Miller Kopp specialty. As the team’s premier sniper and a disciple of the J.J. Reddick School of Sprinting To The Right While You Shoot, this action was an easy call for the coaching staff to make knowing they had Kopp to try and finish it. (Please ignore that the clips I found of him taking this shot ended in airballs; instead notice that they called it on back-to-back occasions against Rutgers in that crushing loss two seasons ago.)
With the Killer Mopp now residing in Bloomington, Collins and Co. have turned to different players for this trademark set. Ty Berry has been the most common stand-in, which makes sense given his well-earned reputation as a deadeye shooter, as he’s canned 46.8 percent of his triples attempted so far this season. Pete Nance has also been featured as the designated shooter on this play, as has Chase Audige in his limited return to the court here in 2021.
However, despite Berry’s pristine shooting from behind the arc, he’s performed poorly on two-point jumpers, which isn’t great considering that’s the intended goal of this play. Per BartTorvik, Berry is converting only 33 percent of his two-point attempts that don’t occur at the rim (5-for-15 in total). This stands out as a bad figure compared to those of other designed shooters on this play, such as Nance, who has made a sterling 52.8 percent of his non-rim two’s ten games into his senior campaign.
Given he’s made the baseline jumper on more than one occassion this season, it’s safe to venture that Berry’s low percentage is more the cause of a few too many contested pull-ups in the half court offense than it is the shot often resulting from this action. Usually long two’s are the opposite of what an offense wants, but a clean baseline look where the shooter gets good elevation is a pretty high percentage shot.
However, if the ‘Cats want to adjust and try and manufacture some threes for Berry off this play, that’s in their bag too. Take this solid look that was generated for Nate Taphorn back in 2017, as Michigan chases under Derek Pardon’s cross screen in an attempt to take away the mid-range look.
And yes, reader, that is correct. This play has long been a staple of Collins’ playbook, not just a recent adaptation. Unsurprisingly, it was run most frequently for Vic Law, who is deservedly in the discussion for the greatest players to ever take the hardwood while wearing a Northwestern uniform.
If you couldn’t tell from the clips shown thus far, the play is designed for the shooter to set a cross screen to threaten a lob or cut to the rim, only for said screener to then come flying off his own screen — often from one of his taller teammates on the court — for that jumper with all his momentum screaming to the right.
Of course, there are counters to differing defenses, such as Taphorn lifting higher (like previously seen). Jumpers moving to the left would be a little less natural for some right-handed ‘Cats, and thus Northwestern often runs through the same motions before tossing the ball to Pete Nance in the mid-post and letting him initiate the offense. Additionally, that cross screen the designed shooter often sets just to open up himself sometimes is enough to free up a run to the rim, as it was here for Chase Audige.
This play isn’t four-dimensional chess or applied econometrics, but it’s great design nonetheless, and has produced fruitful results for the ‘Cats this season. Per Synergy, Northwestern is averaging a sensational 1.167 points per possessions on baseline out of bounds plays, a mark that ranks in the 99th percentile nationally. Of course, Synergy’s calculations are far from flawless, as a quick look through the clips listed under baseline out of bounds for NU reveal some plays that were marked incorrectly, but the point remains the same.
Needing a bucket and having the ball right next to their own basket, Chris Collins teams have an identity to fall back on, and it’s a pretty good one at that.